23 March 2007

Dürer to Friedrich: German Drawings from the Ashmolean

Yesterday I went to visit the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It's an interesting museum, in fact the oldest in England to open it's doors to the public. I often pop in; it has, among many other treasures, an amazing collection of prints and drawings, including many by Raphael and Michaelangelo. Usually there are a few on display, though unfortunately the museum is currently undergoing major development and so a large number of its rooms are closed. However, they do currently have an exhibition of German drawings from this collection, including some great works by Dürer, Grünewald and Holbein. Here's an extract from the museum's description of the exhibition:

Highlights of the exhibition include Albrecht Dürer’s (1471-1528) Youth Kneeling before a Potentate. Watched by two men looking through a window, a young man in a turban kneels before an elder in a vaulted chamber. The youth is thought to be a self portrait of the artist while the theme of the drawing illustrates a biblical story, possibly Jacob departing from Isaac, Joseph before Pharoah, or David and Saul. Dating from between 1492 and 1494, the drawing was likely to have been made following Dürer’s apprenticeship when he travelled widely in the North of Europe. An Elderly Woman with Clasped Hands by Matthias Grünewald (c.1480-1528) is the most striking of the few drawings to have survived by one of the greatest geniuses of German art. This powerful image of grief ranks alongside the finest drawings by Dürer.

The costume study Figure of a Woman in Contemporary Dress by Hans Holbein the Younger(1497-1543) was used by Ruskin in his Lectures on Landscape to teach students the rules of drawing. Ruskin admired Holbein’s ability to create form through the use of light, combined with what he described as “A perfectly sharp linear limit”. While Dürer was the dominant figure in Nuremberg, Hans Burgkmair (1473-1531) was the most important artist in Augsburg. An active painter, etcher and a designer of woodcuts, he played a significant role in the development of the chiaroscuro woodcut. The Ashmolean's Portrait of a Man is a vivid example of his talent in capturing a likeness.

The exhibition is open until 20th May, and is well worth a visit if you happen to be in Oxford.

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