Albrecht Durer: Kunstler, Werk und Zeit.
Darmstadt: Wissenchaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2006. 192 pp. illus. [euro]29.90. ISBN: 978-3-534-18788-1.
G. Ulrich Grossmann and Franz Sonnenberger, eds. Das Durer-Haus: Neue Ergebnisse der Forschung.
Durer Forschengen 1. Nuremberg: Verlag des Germanischen Nationalmuseums, 2007. 288 pp. illus. [euro]35. ISBN: 978-3-936688-24-5.
Matthias Mende's Durer-Bibliographie, published in 1971 in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of the Nuremberg artist's birth, lists 10,271 entries. Since then the flow of new texts about Durer continues unabated. This testifies to our sustained fascination with Durer's art and person. There were major exhibitions of his work in Rome and Madrid in 2007 as well as a host of lesser shows in Europe and North America. Rainer Schoch, Matthias Mende, and Anna Scherbaum edited the massive and presently definitive, three-volume catalogue of his prints (2001-04). Even Erwin Panofsky's classic 1943 monograph was reissued in 2005. On the horizon is an exhibition on the young Durer up to 1500 currently being prepared by the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg for 2011-12. Like Shakespeare's writings, Durer's art still provides aesthetic pleasure and ample intellectual challenges. New discoveries demand the rethinking of long-held assumptions. Even discounting the inevitable repetition endemic to Durer scholarship, new publications keep the discourse vital. The two excellent books under review address different audiences, one popular and one highly specialized.
Anja Grebe has crafted a succinct, reliable, and very readable monograph. Amid the wealth of Durer literature found in German bookstores and museum shops, there really is not a decent up-to-date overview of his art and career. Now there is. Grebe presents a very balanced discussion of Durer's life, major works, and his reputation across the centuries. She credits his success to his geniality, good fortune, and astute business sense. Skill helps too. The book's short length precludes extensive examination of individual objects though there are a few separate text boxes in which a handful of works are discussed at greater length. Grebe references many paintings, drawings, and prints, most of which are not included among the book's forty illustrations. This poses problems for some general readers unfamiliar with the specific works. Grebe's insights and questions are sprinkled throughout the book. For instance, she reminds us that the tale about Durer being born in the rear house of a property owned by Willibald Pirckheimer's father dates only to the eighteenth century. Grebe dismisses the traditional attribution of certain works to Michael Wolgemut, Durer's teacher. She notes the shakiness of our knowledge of Durer's wanderjahre, especially his achievements while in Basel, and the uncertainties associated with the dating of Durer's first trip to Italy. She mentions that a payment document long thought to refer to the artist's Charlemagne and Sigisnmund panels refers instead to repolychroming two statues on the Schoner Brunnen in Nuremberg's main market. Grebe's monograph succeeds nicely as a primer, a solid foundation for anyone interested in learning about the great Nuremberg master.
Ulrich Grossmann, Director of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, and his colleagues have initiated a new series entitled Durer Forschungen. The first volume focuses largely, but not exclusively, on the artist's house and its use. In 1509, Durer purchased a large corner house near the Tiergartnertor, one of Nuremberg's main gates. Over the centuries the house became a tourist site and locus for Durer's veneration especially after the city purchased it in 1825, renovated it in a Gothic-revival style in 1826, and rented it to a local art society (later known as the Albrecht-Durer-Verein). In 1871, the house, refurbished again and taken over by a new foundation, opened as Europe's first (?) public museum dedicated to a single artist.
Recent structural repairs to the house and a rethinking of its interior displays, coupled with a 2006 symposium, inspired this volume's theme. Jutta Tschoeke's essay explains the concept "Zuruck zu Durer" that guided the decision to show how each room might have looked and functioned during the artist's life. This is obviously challenging, since the scant archival and visual sources present little evidence for determining where Durer painted, his assistants worked, or his print shop, with its press, material storage, and drying racks, was located. Konrad Bedal considers the appearance of contemporary living rooms, or Stuben, with their large tiled, smokeless stoves. He examines wooden ceilings, wall revetements, and windows used in extant late Gothic-style houses. Durer's St. Jerome in His Study engraving (see p. 115, figs. 14a-b) inspired the nineteenth-century configuration of the house's main room. Claus and Robert Giersch undertook extensive measurements, dendrochronological tests, and other studies of the house between 1998 and 2002. They report that the oldest parts date to the early fifteenth century and that in 1501-03, or shortly before Durer acquired the property, there was a major remodeling. Matthias Exner discusses the recent facade and roof repairs. Building upon the past research of Matthias Mende, Ulrich Klein usefully investigates the house's history over the last two centuries, including its rather romantic decorations in the nineteenth century, its "purification" in 1928, and its renovation in 1947-49.
The next three essays address the house's use during Durer's lifetime. Anja Grebe challenges the traditional notion that the artist ran a large, active workshop. She usefully summarizes what is known about the young boys, apprentices, journeymen, coworkers, and followers linked with Durer. If Hans Baldung Grien and Hans Schaufelein supposedly managed Durer's workshop while he was in Venice in 1505-07, why are they never mentioned in his letters and why did he ask Pirckheimer to take his brother Hans to Wolgemut to continue his training as a painter? Daniel Hess and Thomas Eser cover some of the same issues in their excellent article on where Durer worked. After disproving Joseph Heller's 1827 suggestion that the artist painted in the room with the bay window under the roof, which was demolished in that year, they consider the scant visual and documentary evidence that might provide some clues about the functions of different spaces. Especially useful are their summary of where Durer resided at different points in his life and their examination of the social network of the neighborhood around Albrecht Durer the Elder's house on Burgstrasse. They discuss what is known about the configuration of other contemporary workshops and, once again, who might have populated Durer's atelier. Dirk J. de Vries considers Durer's house as a model for Amsterdam's Rembrandthuis, which opened as a museum in 1906.
The last four articles focus on new research. Ramona Braun and Anja Grebe argue that Durer's signature on the reverse of a woodblock of St. Jerome, now in Basel, cannot be by the artist. Since this provides the basis for attributing various prints and drawings to the young artist while in Basel in the early 1490s, they maintain that the prevailing picture of his early career is flawed. Ulrich Grossmann's essay on Durer's three Innsbruck watercolors presents documentary and visual evidence challenging their dating. If these were made in 1496-97 rather than 1494-95, our understanding of Durer's first trip to Italy must be revised. Simon P. Oakes smartly studies Durer's architectural drawings, a topic he has published elsewhere. Daniel Burger looks at the artist's Theory of Fortifications treaties (1527) within the context of German military construction of the sixteenth century. The Ottoman threat coupled with the religious and social unrest of the period prompted major fortification projects, most of which made no use of Durer's manual.
The Germanisches Nationalmuseum is to be commended for this remarkably thoughtful and nicely illustrated volume. I hope that future volumes in this series will live up to its high scholarly standard.
JEFFREY CHIPPS SMITH
University of Texas at Austin