Sixty-two prints by Albrecht Durer – said to be his best work and valued at more than $4 million – are up for auction at Christie’s in New York.
The prints are pricey because they’re impressions from a first edition and very rare.
Durer’s subject-matter ranges widely from religious to secular. He was big on the natural world in the belief that it’s the very basis of art. For that reason, he thought of himself as both an artist and scientist. As he put it, “Nature holds the beautiful, for the artist who has the insight to extract it. Thus, beauty lies even in humble, perhaps ugly things, and the ideal, which bypasses or improves on nature, may not be truly beautiful in the end.”
Leonardo da Vinci felt the same way about the natural world. Everything is natural in his work. Even his Mona Lisa: is about nature. The soft shadows around the mouth, as if hidden behind fog, suggests the fleeting ways of nature, right down to the flowing waterway in the background landscape.
Durer’s depictions of nature are exhaustive in detail. Seeing them brings Da Vinci;s words to mind: “Whoever thinks he can remember the infinite teachings of Nature flatters himself. Memory is not that huge.”
Despite the detailing in Durer’s work, he sought simplicity. “As I grew older,” he said, “I realized that it was much better to insist on the genuine forms of nature, for simplicity is the greatest adornment of art. “
Durer’s animal prints are good examples of what he called “genuine forms of nature.” His drawing of a young hare is so lifelike, you imagine you can see it breathing.
All great artists are able to do this. When you think of all the animal paintings in art history, beginning with the bison and reindeer that run free on Cro-Magnon cave walls, you realize they, like Durer, shared a common ground: appreciation of wildlife. The woolly rhinoceros at the Font-de-Gaume Cave in southern France, painted from crumbled colored stones, stresses the sharpness of the animal's horns. In Da Vinci’s study of a rearing horse, www.examiner.com/article/public-artists-get-off-your-high-horsehe not only captures the action, but also the steed's tension, inducing you to hear it snorting.
But here’s the thing. While painters can capture nature in all the glory of its colors and shapes, Durer captures it in line alone.