Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Albrecht Dürer
View of Arco, 1495
Watercolour and gouache on paper
Louvre, Paris, France

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Joachim Patinir (1480-1524) and Albrecht Altdorfer (1480-1538) each took landscape painting into new territory. Dürer examined the grain of sand, Patinir and Altdorfer, the world at large.

Let's begin with the grain of sand. Nils Büttner tells of Dürer's contact with the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.
"When Albrecht Dürer visited the Netherlands in 1521 he paid extra to have the retable opened so he could study its center panel."

Kenneth Clark writes about Dürer and his importance in the development of landscape art in The Landscape of Fact. Why paraphrase when Clark knows so much and writes so beautifully?
"The curiosity about the precise character of a particular spot, which was a part of the general curiosity of the fifteenth century, culminated in the topographical water-colours of Dürer. They begin in 1494 with some drawings which, in their earnest desire to give every available fact, are almost like the work of a Sunday painter. But a few months later Dürer produced the water-colour of Innsbruck, now in the Albertina, which is not only the first portrait of a town, but shows a delicate perception of light. The drawings of the Casle of Innsbruck done at the same time are pure topography, and are more remarkable for curiosity and dexterity than for those qualities which we nowadays call aesthetic. Yet this curiosity, by its intense concentration, has a compelling effect. 'He holds us with his glittering eye.' We move through the olive grove, and scale to the summit of Arco, led on by the force of Dürer's unfaltering hand. This drawing was done on the way back from Venice in the spring of 1495 and is the first of a series of water-colours which not only show Dürer's phenomenal skill, but are timeless. In his figure drawings he mastered, almost too completely, the idiom of the time. In his landscapes he is the master of all styles and subjects, from rocks, like Cezanne's quarry, to visions of poetical solitude that strangely anticipate the sentiment of the nineteenth century."

A good page of Dürer watercolors shows examples of Clark's references. You can click on the images to enlarge them a bit. One thing to remember with these pieces is that the medium and technique of watercolor was relatively new.

Grace Glueck covers a bit about Dürer's landscapes in her 2006 New York Times article The Etching Revolution: Masterpieces in Circulation.

Dürer considered Patinir to be the master of landscape painting. Olga's Gallery features a page of Patenir paintings including Charon.

Altdorfer's best known painting is The Battle of Alexander at Issus, with its large cast of extras. The Web Gallery has several good pages of his paintings categorized by landscapes, paintings of religious subject matter, altarpieces, graphics although, landscapes can be seen throughout the different categories.

It's not difficult to see the influences when later in the 16th century, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525-1569) produces his masterworks of peasant life on the great, round curve of the earth and her changing seasons.

The Web Gallery of Art is an excellent source of images with fine pages on Dürer, Patinier, Altdorfer and the Brueghels but, because their system allows only some direct external links to individual pages, it's best to go to their main index page, find and select specific artists for yourself.

Read my other posts on the history of Landscape Painting.

See my paintings at Landscape into Art.

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