A giant leap forward



Christ crowned with Thorns

This is the second in a series of blog posts discussing highlights of the exhibition A Celebration of Print: 500 Years of Graphic Art from the Frank Raysor Collection currently on display in VMFA’s Mellon Focus Galleries. Admission to this exhibition is free.

One of the great pleasures of A Celebration of Print is that the exhibition’s range over 500 years makes possible comparisons between various epochs and different media. One such dramatic and momentous contrast is that between the early German woodcut discussed in my previous post and this image: Albrecht Dürer’s Christ Crowned with Thorns.

Dürer was the greatest virtuoso artist of the Northern Renaissance, and the greatest printmaker of the 16th century. He excelled in painting and drawing as well as printmaking and was an accomplished theoretician. This tiny (4 9/16” x 2 7/8”) plate from his Engraved Passion series shows the artist’s superb ability to delineate narrative and emotion. Note that Dürer shows Christ’s tormentors in contemporary dress, thus conveying to his audience the urgent relevance of Christ’s sacrifice.

Here, Dürer demonstrates his astonishing talent in engraving: a much more demanding medium than woodcut. More surprising is his mastery of anatomy and the history of art – the body of the tormented Christ is based on the ancient prototype of the Belvedere Torso http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belvedere_Torso.

Such sophistication must not have been easy to accomplish and is worlds away from the visual language of the early woodcut. Come admire the difference for yourself – the two works are installed in close proximity in the gallery.

But stay tuned here, my next blog post might surprise you!

— Mitchell Merling, Paul Mellon Curator and Curator of European Art

Full caption: Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528), Christ Crowned with Thorns, from The Engraved Passion, 1512, Engraving, Promised Gift of Frank Raysor, L.139.2010.2