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Albert Durer by T. Sturge Moore

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and the pictures he saw at Venice, and yet again by those he saw in the
Netherlands. As Velasquez, after each of his journeys to Italy, returns
to attempt a mythological picture in the grand style, so Dürer turns to
painting after his return from Venice or from the Netherlands; and his
pictures divide themselves into three groups: those painted after or
during his _Wanderjahre_ and before he went to Venice in 1505, those
painted there and during the next five years after his return, and those
painted in the Netherlands or commenced immediately on his
return thence.

II

The mediums of oil and tempera lend themselves to the production of
broad-coloured surfaces that merge imperceptibly into one another. There
are men the fundamental unit of whose picture language is a blot or
shape; as children or as savages, they would find these most capable of
expressing what they saw. There are others for whom the scratch or line
is the fundamental unit, for whom every object is most naturally
expressed by an outline. There are, of course, men who present us with
every possible blend of these two fundamental forms of picture language.

The mediums of oils and tempera are especially adapted to the
requirements of those who see things rather as a diaper of shapes than
as a map of lines; while for these last the point of pen, burin, or
etching-needle offers the most congenial implement. Dürer was very
greatly more inclined to express objects by a map of lines than as a
diaper of coloured shapes; and for this reason I say that he was not a
painter born. If this be true, as a painter he must have been at a
disadvantage. In this preponderance of the draughtsman qualities he
resembles many artists of the Florentine school, as also in his
theoretic pre-occupation with perspective, proportion, architecture, and
technical methods. We are impressed by a coldness of approach, an
austerity, a dignity not altogether justified by the occasion, but as it
were carried over from some precedent hour of spiritual elevation; the
prophet's demeanour in between the days of visitation, a little too
consciously careful not to compromise the divinity which informs him no
longer. This tendency to fall back on manner greatly acquired indeed,
but no longer consonant with the actual mood, which is really too vacant
of import to parade such importance, is often a fault of natures whose
native means of expression is the thin line, the geometer's precision,
the architect's foresight in measurement. And by allowing for it I think
we can explain the contradiction apparent between the critics' continual
insistence on what they call Dürer's great thoughts, and the sparsity of
intellectual creativeness which strikes one in turning over his
engravings, so many are there of which either the occasion or the
conception are altogether trivial when compared with the grandiose
aspect of the composition or the impeccable mechanical performance.
Dürer's literary remains sufficiently prove his mind to have been
constantly exercised upon and around great thoughts, and their influence
may be felt in the austerity and intensity of his noblest portraits and
other creations. But "great thoughts" in respect of works of art either
means the communication of a profound emotion by the creation of a
suitable arabesque for a deeply significant subject, as in the flowing
masses of Michael Angelo's _Creation of Man_, or it means the pictorial
enhancing of the telling incidents of a dramatic situation such as we
find it in Rembrandt's treatment of the Crucifixion, Deposition, or
Entombment. Now it seems to me the paucity of successes on these lines
in one who nevertheless occasionally entirely succeeds, is what is most
striking in Dürer. Perhaps when dealing with the graphic arts one should
rather speak of great character than great thoughts; yet Dürer, while
constantly impressing us as a great character, seems to be one who was
all too rarely wholly himself. The abundant felicity in expression of
Rembrandt or Shakespeare is altogether wanting. The imperial imposition
of mood which Michael Angelo affects is perhaps never quite certainly
his, even in the _Melancholy_. Yet we feel that not only has he a
capacity of the same order as those men, but that he is spiritually akin
to them, despite his coldness, despite his ostentation.

But not only is Dürer praised for "great thoughts," but he is praised
for realism, and sometimes accused of having delighted in ugliness; or,
as it is more cautiously expressed, of having preferred truth to grace.
This is a point which I consider may better be discussed in respect to
his drawings than his pictures, which nearly always have some obvious
conventional or traditional character, so that the word realism cannot
be applied to them. Even in his portraits his signature or an
inscription is often added in such a manner as insists that this is a
painting, a panel;--not a view through a window, or an attempt to
deceive the eye with a make-believe reality.

III

The altar-piece, consisting of a centre, the Virgin Mary adoring her
baby son in the carpenter's shop at Nazareth, and two wings, St. Anthony
and St. Sebastian, though the earliest of Dürer's pictures which has
survived, is perhaps the most beautiful of them all, at least as far as
the two wings are concerned. The centre has been considerably damaged by
repainting, and was probably, owing to the greater complication of
motives in it, never quite so successful. Whether at Venice or
elsewhere, it would seem almost necessary that the young painter had
seen and been impressed by pictures by Gentile Bellini and Andrea
Mantegna, both of whom have painted in the same thin tempera on fine
canvas, obtaining similar beauties of colour and surface. It is hardly
possible to imagine one who had seen none but German or Flemish pictures
painting the St. Sebastian. The treatment of the still life in the
foreground is in itself almost a proof of this. Perhaps this thin, flat
tempera treatment was that most suited to Dürer's native bias, and we
should regret his having been tempted to overcome the more brilliant and
exacting medium of oils. In any case he more than once reverted to it in
portraits and studies, while the majority of the pictures painted before
he went to Venice in 1506 have more or less kinship with it. The
supposed portrait of Frederic the Wise is another masterpiece in this
kind, and the _Hercules slaying the birds of the Stymphalian Lake_ in
the Germanic Museum, Nuremberg, 1500, was probably another. For though
now considerably damaged by restorations and dirt, it suggests far
greater pleasures than it actually imparts. The contrast between

"The sea-worn face sad as mortality,
Divine with yearning after fellowship,"

and the blond richly curling hair blown back from it, is extremely fine
and entirely suited to the treatment; as is also the similar contrast
between the richly inlaid bow, shield, and arrows, and the broad and
flowing modulation of the energetic limbs and back.

The Paumgartner altar-piece, 1499, stands out from the "ordinary
pictures" belonging to this early period. It consists of a charming and
gay Nativity in the centre, and two knights in armour on the wings,
probably portraits of the donors, Stephan and Lucas Paumgartner,
figuring as warlike saints. Stephan, a personal friend of Dürer's,
figured again as St. George in the _Trinity and All Saints_ picture
painted in 1511. There were originally two panels with female saints
beyond these again, but no trace of them remains. Now that the landscape
backgrounds have been removed from the side panels, there is no reason
to suppose that any one but Dürer had a hand in these works. But in
writing to Heller, he tells him that it was unheard of to put so much
work into an altar-piece as he was then putting into his _Coronation of
the Virgin_, and we may feel certain that Dürer regarded this picture as
in the altar-piece category. The two knights are represented against
black grounds, and their silhouettes form a very fine arabesque, which
the streamers of their lances, artificially arranged, complete and
emphasise. This black ground points probably to the influence of Jacopo
de' Barbari, whom Dürer had met and been mystified by. (See p. 63.)

[Illustration: ST. GEORGE AND ST. EUSTACE Side panels in oils of the
Paumgartner Altar-piece in the Alt Pinakothek, Munich]

No doubt there was much in such a background that appealed to the
draughtsman in Dürer. It insisted on the outline which had probably been
the starting-point of his conception. Nothing could be less
painter-like, or make the modelling of figures more difficult, as Dürer,
perhaps, realised when he later on painted the _Adam and Eve_ at Madrid.
These two warriors are, however, most successful and imposing, and
immeasurably enhanced now that the spurious backgrounds, artfully
concocted out of Dürer's own prints by an ingenious improver of his
betters, have been removed. This person had also tinkered the centre
picture, painting out two heraldic groups of donors, far smaller in
scale than the actual personages of the scene, but very useful in the
composition, as giving a more ample base to the masses of broken and
fretted quality; useful also now as an additional proof of how free from
the fetters of an impertinent logic of realism Dürer ever was. These
little kneeling donors and their coats of arms emphasise the surface,
and are delightful in their naïvety, while they serve to render the gay,
almost gaudy panel more homely, and give it a place and a function in
the world. For they help us to realise that it answered a demand, and
was not the uncalled-for and slightly frigid excursion of the aesthetic
imagination which it must otherwise appear. In the same way the
brilliant _Adoration of the Magi_ (dated 1504) in the Uffizi, also
somewhat gaudy and frigid, could we but see it where it originally hung
in Luther's church at Wittenberg, might invest itself with some charm
that one vainly seeks in it now. The failure in emotion might seem more
natural if we saw the wise Elector discussing his new purchase; we might
have felt what Dürer meant when a year later he wrote from Venice: "I am
a gentleman here and only a hanger-on at home." The expectation and
prophecy of his success in those who surround a painter,--even if it be
chiefly expressed by bitter rivalry, or the craft by which one greedy
purchaser tries to over-reach another, even if he has to be careful not
to eat at some tables for fear of being poisoned by a host whose
ambition his present performance may have dashed--even expressed in this
truly Venetian manner, the expectation and prophecy of his success in
those about him make it easier for a painter to soar, and may touch his
work with an indefinable glow that the approval of honest and astute
electors or solid burghers may have been utterly powerless to impart.

IV

At Venice, perhaps the occasion for his journey thither, Dürer undertook
a more important work than any he had yet attempted. _The Feast of the
Rose Garlands_ was painted for the high altar of the church of San
Bartolommeo, belonging to the German Merchants' Exchange, and close to
their Pondaco.[73] In it we find a very considerable influence of Italy
in general, and Giovanni Bellini in particular; it is a splendid and
pompous parade piece, and probably the portraits of the German merchants
which it contained were the part of the work which was most successful,
as it was certainly that most congenial to Dürer's genius. The _Christ
among the Doctors_, dated 1506, and now in the Barberini Palace at Rome,
might seem to have been painted chiefly to justify Giovanni Bellini's
astonishment at the calligraphical painting of hair. It is one of those
pictures of which a literary description would please more than the work
itself. Though the contrast between the sweet childish face and those of
the old worldly scribes is well conceived, it is in reality so violent
as to be grotesque, and the play of hands produces the effect of a
diagram explanatory of a conjuring trick, or a deaf and dumb alphabet,
instead of conveying the inner sense of the scene represented after
Rossetti's fashion, who so often succeeded in making hands speak.
Another work, which dates from Venice, is the little _Crucifixion_ (at
Dresden.) Perhaps the landscape and suffering body are just sufficiently
touched with acute emotion to make the arabesque of the two floating
ends of the loin-cloth appear a little out of place; for in spite of the
delicacy and all but tenderness which Dürer has for once attained to in
the workmanship, one's satisfaction seems let and hindered.

V

Shortly after his return from Venice, Dürer completed two life-size
panels representing Adam and Eve; there are drawings for them dated
during his stay at Venice, but as a work of art they are far less
interesting than the engraving of the same subject completed three years
earlier. The treatment, even the conception, has been inadequately
influenced by the proposed scale of the work. Probably they were like
the earlier Hercules, done to please the artist himself rather than some
patron; they are an effort to prove that he could do something which was
after all too hard for him. Not only had he set himself the problem
which the Greeks and Michael Angelo, and Raphael with their aid alone,
had solved, of finding proportions suitable to express harmoniously the
infinite capacity for complex motion combined with that constancy of
intention which gives dignity to men and women alone among animals; but
the technical problems involved in representing life-size nude figures
against a plain black ground were indeed an unconscious confession that
Dürer did not understand paint. There is a copy of these panels,
recently attributed to Baldung Grien, in the Pitti. Animals and birds
have been added from drawings made by Dürer, but the picture is still
farther from success, though Grien may not improbably have executed it
with Dürer at his elbow. Dürer made one more attempt at representing a
life-size nude, the _Lucretia_, finished in 1518, at a period when his
powers seem to have been clouded, for the few pictures which belong to
it are all inferior. However, studies for the figure exist dated 1508,
so we may suppose it was a project brought back from Venice. His
ill-success with this subject may remind us of Shakespeare's long
pedantic exercise in rhyme on the same theme. The pictorial motive of
Dürer's work is beautiful and worthy of a Greek: indeed it is identical
with that of Watts' _Psyche_, of which the version in private hands is
very superior to that in the Tate Gallery. The position of the bed, the
idea of the draperies all are parallel. No doubt the lonely feather shed
from Love's wing at which Psyche gazes is both more of a poet's and of
a painter's invention than the cold steel of Lucretia's dagger. And in
spite of his wide knowledge of Greek and Italian art, our English master
could scarcely have produced a work of such classic dignity with the
more violent motive of the dagger, which seems to call for "The torch
that flames with many a lurid flake," or at least the torpid glow of
smouldering embers, to light it in such a manner as would make a really
pictorial treatment possible. No doubt Dürer has been misled by a too
tyrannous notion as to what ought to be the physical build of so chaste
a matron, and in his anxiety to make chastity self-evident, has
forgotten to explain the need for it by such a degree of attractiveness
as might tempt a tyrant to be dangerous. Just as Shakespeare, in
attempting to exhaust every possible motive which the situation
comports, has forgotten that for a character that can move us a
selection is needed. Another elaborate piece of frigid invention is the
_Massacre of the Ten Thousand Saints in the reign of Sapor II. of
Persia_, in the Imperial Gallery at Vienna, dated 1508. However, in this
case no doubt Dürer could plead that the subject was not of his own
choice, for he was commissioned by the Elector, Frederic the Wise, whose
wisdom probably did not extend to a knowledge of what subjects lend
themselves to pictorial treatment. Still, making every allowance for
these facts, it cannot be admitted that Dürer did the best possible with
his subject. Probably it did not move him, and neither does he us. Peter
Breughel and Albrecht Altdorfer would certainly have done far better so
far as the conception of the picture is concerned, though neither of
them had so much skill to waste on its realisation. Nevertheless, this
tour _de force_ is the picture of Dürer's most pleasing in surface and
colour, with the exception of the Wings _of the Dresden Altar-piece_. It
contains beautiful groups and figures, and is extremely well executed;
so that it may amuse and delight the eye for a long time while the
significance of the subject is forgotten.

[Illustration: THE MARTYRDOM OF TEN THOUSAND SAINTS UNDER SAPOR II. OF
PERSIA--Oil picture. "Iste faciebat anno domini 1508 Albertus Dürer
Alemanus"]

VI

We now turn to the third and fourth of the half-dozen pictures of Dürer,
which stand out from all the rest by their elaboration and importance.
The _Coronation of the Virgin (see_ p. 97), painted as the centre panel
of the altar-piece commissioned by Jacob Heller at Frankfort, was
unfortunately burnt with the palace at Munich on the night of April 9,
1674; the Elector Maximilian of Bavaria having forced or cajoled the
Dominicans, to whose church Heller had left it, to sell it to him. It is
now represented by a copy made by Paul Juvenal in its original position,
where the almost ruined portraits of Heller and his wife are supposed to
have been partly Dürer's, though the other panels are obviously the work
of assistants. This work exists for us in a series of magnificent brush
drawings in black and white line on grey paper, rather than in the copy,
and we can in a measure imagine its appearance by the perfectly-
preserved _Trinity and All Saints_ commenced immediately after
it for Matthew Landauer, and now in the Imperial Gallery at Vienna.
Nothing can surpass this last picture in elaboration and finish; the
colour, if not beautiful, is rich and luminous; and though it is
separate faces and draperies which chiefly delight the eye, the
composition of the whole is an adequate adaptation of the traditional
treatment for such themes which had been handed down through the middle
ages. It invites comparison rather with the similar subjects painted by
Fra Angelico than with the _Disputa_ of Raphael, to which German critics
compare it; however, it possesses as little of Angelico's sweet
blissfulness as the Dominican painter possessed of Dürer's accuracy of
hand and searching intensity of visual realisation. Both painters are
interested in individuals, and, representing crowds of faces, make every
one a portrait; both evince a dramatic sense of propriety in gesture,
both revel in bright, clear colours, especially azure; but as the light
in Dürer's masterpiece has a rosy hotness, which ill bears comparison
with the virginal pearliness of Angelico's heaven, so the costumes and
the figures of the Florentine are doll-like, when compared with the
unmistakable quality of the stuffs in which the fully-resurrected bodies
of Dürer's saints rumple and rustle. The wings of his angels are at
least those of birds, though coloured to fancy, while Angelico's are of
pasteboard tinsel and paint. But in spite of the comparative genuineness
of his upholstery, as a vision of heaven there can be no hesitation in
preferring that of the Florentine.

In a frame designed by Dürer and carved under his supervision, this
monument to thoroughness and skill was ensconced in a little chapel
dedicated to All Saints, which in style approaches our Tudor buildings.
There the frame remained till lately with a poor copy of the picture and
an inscription in old German to this effect: ('Matthew Landauer
completed the dedication of this chapel of the twelve brethren, together
with the foundation attached to it, and this picture, in the year 1511
after the birth of Christ,')

Dürer signed his picture with the same Latin formula as that of the
_Coronation_:

"Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg did this the year from when the Virgin
brought forth 1511."

VII

Of all Dürer's paintings of the Madonna, there is only one which, by its
superb design, deserves special notice among his masterpieces. This
_Madonna with the Iris_ exists in two versions, both unfinished; one the
property of Sir Frederick Cook, the other at Prague, in the Rudolphium.
This latter Mr. Campbell Dodgson considers to be a poor copy. The panel
is badly cracked, and weeds and long grasses have been added, apparently
with a view to masking the cracks. Judging from a photograph alone, many
of these additions seem so appropriately placed and freely sketched that
I feel it at least to be possibly a work by the master himself. On the
other hand, Sir Frederick's picture is so sleepy and clumsy in handling,
that though it is unfinished, and perhaps in part damaged by some
restorer, I feel great hesitation in regarding it as Dürer's handiwork.
In both cases the magnificent design is his, and that alone in either is
fully representative of him. Mr. Campbell Dodgson ventures to criticise
the profusion of drapery as excessive, but my feeling, I must confess,
endorses Dürer's in this, rather than that of his learned critic. To me
this profusion, and the grandeur it gives as a mass in the design, is of
the very essence of what is most peculiarly creative in Dürer's
imagination.

The last picture of which it is necessary to speak is that of the _Four
Apostles_ or the _Four Preachers_, as they have been more appropriately
called; it was perhaps the last he painted, and is in many respects the
most successful. It is the only one by which the comparison with
Raphael, so dear to German critics, seems at all warranted: there is
certainly some kinship between Dürer's St. John and St. Paul and
apostolic figures in the cartoons or on the Vatican walls. The German
artist's manner is less rhetorical, but his conception is hardly less
grandiose; and his taste does not so closely border on over-emphasis,
but neither is it so conscious or so fluent. Technically it seems to me
that the chief influence is a recollection of the large canvases of Jan
and Hubert Van Eyck and Hubert Van der Goes which Dürer had admired in
the Netherlands; these had strengthened and directed the bias of his
self-culture towards simple masses on a large scale.[74] He may very
well have sought to combine what he learnt from them with hints he found
in the engravings after Raphael which he obtained in Antwerp. His
increasing sickness may probably account for the fact that the white
mantle of St. Paul is the only portion quite finished. The assertion of
the writing-master, Johann Neudörffer, who in his youth had known Dürer,
that the four figures are typical of the four temperaments, the
sanguine, the choleric, the phlegmatic, and the melancholic,--into which
categories an amateurish psychology arbitrarily divided human
characters,--is as likely to be correct as it is certain that it adds
nothing to the power and beauty of the presentation. Though Dürer in his
work on human proportions describes the physical build of these
different types, we do not know exactly what degree of precision he
imagined it possible to attain in discerning them, or to what extent
their names were merely convenient handles for certain types which he
had chosen æsthetically. To us to-day this classification is merely a
trace of an obsolete pedantry, which it would be a vain curiosity to
attempt to follow with the object of identifying its imaginary bases.

The four preachers have all the air of being striking likenesses of
actual people which it is possible for work so broadly and grandly
conceived to have. These panels are interesting, even more than by their
actual success, as showing us what a scholar Dürer was to the end; how
he learned from every defeat as well as every victory, and constantly
approached a conception and a rendering of human beauty which seems
intimately connected with man's fullest intellectual and spiritual
freedom--a conception and rendering of human beauty which Raphael
himself had to learn from the Greeks and Michael Angelo. The work has
suffered, it is supposed, from restorers, and also from the Munich
monarch, Maximilian, who had the tremendous texts (see page 177) which
Dürer had inscribed beneath the two panels sawn off in order to spare
the feelings of the Jesuits, who were dominant at his court, for their
conception of religion did not consist with terrors to come for those
who, abuse their trust as governors and directors of mankind.

Lastly, mention must be made of Dürer's monochrome masterpiece, The Road
to Calvary 15.27 (see illus.), in the collection of Sir Frederick Cook.
A poor copy of this work is at Dresden, a better one at Bergamo. The
effect of it, and several elaborate water-colour designs of the same
class, is akin to the peculiar richness of chased metal work; glinting
light hovers over crowds of little figures.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 73: The original, now in the Monastery of Strahow-Prague, is
very much damaged, and in part repainted. There are copies in the
Imperial Gallery at Vienna (No. 1508), and in the possession of A. W.
Miller, Esq., of Sevenoaks. It is to be regretted that the Dürer Society
published a photogravure of this latter work, which, though till then
unknown, is far less interesting than the original, of which they only
gave a reproduction in the text, an exhaustive history of its fortunes
from the learned pen of Mr. Cambell Dodgson. This picture, which is so
frequently referred to in the letters from Venice, contains portraits of
the Emperor Maximilian and Pope Julius II., though neither of them from
life, and in the background those of Dürer and Pirkheimer.]

[Footnote 74: See what Melanchthon says, p. 187.]

CHAPTER II

DÜRER'S PORTRAITS

I

If Dürer's pictures are as a whole the least satisfactory section of his
work, in his portraits he makes us abundant amends for the time he might
otherwise have been reproached for wasting to obtain a vain mastery over
brushes and pigment.

Unfortunately it is probable that many even of these have been lost or
destroyed, while of his most interesting sitters we have nothing but
drawings. He did not paint his friend, the boisterous and learned
Pirkheimer; and what would we not give for a painted portrait of
Erasmus, or a portrait of Kratzer, the astronomer royal, to compare with
the two masterpieces by Holbein in the Louvre? Even the posthumous
portrait of his Imperial patron Maximilian is less interesting than the
drawings from which it was done, the eccentric sitter not having the
time to spare for so sensible a monument.

[Illustration: PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST Pen drawing in dark brown ink at
Erlangen (This drawing has been cut down for reproduction)]

II

However, Dürer had one sitter who was perhaps the most beautiful of all
the sons of men, whose features combined in an equal measure nobleness
of character, intellectual intensity and physical beauty; and, finding
him also most patient and accessible, he painted him frequently. The two
earliest portraits of himself are the drawings which show him at the
ages of thirteen and nineteen(?) respectively (see illustration). Then,
as a young man with a sprouting chin, we have the picture till recently
at Leipzig of which Goethe's enthusiastic description has already been
quoted (p. 62). It is probable that neither Titian nor Holbein could
have shown at so early an age a portrait so admirably conceived and
executed. It is a masterpiece, even now that the inevitable improvements
which those who lack all relish of genius rarely lack the opportunity,
never the inclination, to add to a masterpiece, have confused the
drawing of the eyes, and reduced the bloom and delicacy that the
features traced by a master hand, even when they become an almost
complete wreck, often retain; for time and fortune are not so
conscientiously destructive as the imbecility of the incapable. Next we
have a portrait of Dürer when only five years older, in perfect
preservation,--that in the Prado at Madrid. This charming picture must
certainly have drawn a sonnet from the Shakespeare who wrote _Love's
Labour Lost_, could he have seen it. For it presents a young dandy, the
delicacy and sensitiveness of whose features seem to demand and warrant
the butterfly-like display of the white and black costume hemmed with
gold, and of a cap worthy to crown those flowing honey-coloured locks.
There is a good copy of this delightful work in the Uffizi, where, in a
congregation of self-painted artists, it does all but justice to the
most beautiful of them all. For fineness of touch the original has never
been surpassed by any hand of European or even Chinese master. Next
there are the dapper little full-length portraits which Dürer inserted
in his chief paintings. He stands beside his friend Pirkheimer at the
back of the adoring crowd in the _Feast of the Roses_, and again in the
midst of the mountain slope, where on all sides of them the ten thousand
saints suffer martyrdom. Dürer stands alone beside an inscription in a
gentle pastoral landscape beneath the vision of the Virgin's Assumption
seen over the heads of the Apostles, who gaze up in rapture; and again
he is alone beside a broad peaceful river beneath the vision of the Holy
Trinity and All Saints. I know of no parallel to these little portraits.
Rembrandt and Botticelli and many others have introduced portraits of
themselves into religious pictures, but always in disguise, as a
personage in the crowd or an actor in the scene. Only the master who was
really most exceptional for his good looks, has had the kindness, in
spite of every incongruity, to present himself before us on all
important occasions, like the court beauty in whom it is charity rather
than vanity to appear in public. It is expected that the very beautiful
be gracious thus. Emerson tells us that two centuries ago the Town
Council of Montpelier passed a law to constrain two beautiful sisters to
sit for a certain time on their balcony every other day, that all might
enjoy the sight of what was most beautiful in their town. It was one of
the most gracious traits of Jeanne d'Arc's character that she liked to
wear beautiful clothes, because it pleased the poor people to see her
thus. And Palm Sunday commemorates another historical example of such
grace and truth. Dürer's face had a striking resemblance to the
traditional type for Jesus, adding to it just that element of individual
peculiarity, the absence of which makes it ever liable to appear a
little vacant and unconvincing. The perception of this would seem to
have dictated the general arrangement of Dürer's crowning portrait of
himself, that at Munich dated 1500 (see illus.), "Before which" (Mr.
Ricketts writes in his recently published volume on the Prado) "one
forgets all other portraits whatsoever, in the sense that this perfect
realisation of one of the world's greatest men is equal to the
occasion." The most exhaustive visual power and executive capacity meet
in this picture, which would seem to have traversed the many perils to
which it has been exposed without really suffering so much as their
enumeration makes one expect. Thausing tells us:

The following is the story of the picture's wanderings, as told at
Nuremberg. It was lent by the magistrates, after they had taken the
precaution of placing a seal and strings on the back of the panel, to
the painter and engraver Kügner, to copy. He, however, carefully sawed
the panel in half (layer-wise) and glued to the authentic back his
miserable copy, which now hangs in the Town Hall. The original he sold,
and it eventually came into the possession of King Ludwig I., before
Nuremberg belonged to Bavaria.

[Illustration: _Hanfstaengl_ "I, Albert Dürer of Nuremberg, painted my
own portrait here in the proper colours at the age of twenty-eight"
Oil-painting. Alt Pinakothek, Munich]

He suggests that the colour was once bright and varied, and that by
varnish and glazes it has been reduced to its present harmonious
condition. The hair is certainly much darker than the other portraits
would have led one to expect, and the almost walnut brown of the general
colour scheme is unique in Dürer's work. However, if some such
transmogrification has been effected, it is marvellous that it should
have obliterated so little of the inimitable handiwork of the master.
Thausing considered the date (1500), monogram and inscription on the
back to be forgeries, and it certainly looks as if it ought to come
nearer to the portrait in the _Feast of the Rose Garlands_ (1506) than
to that at Madrid (1498). A genuine scalloped tablet is faintly visible
under the dark glazes which cover the background; and this, no doubt,
bears the original inscription and date. What may not have happened to a
picture after or before it left the artist's studio? Critics are too
quick to determine that such changes have been introduced by others. In
this case we must remember how experimental Dürer was, even with regard
to his engravings on metal. He tries iron plates and etching, and
finally settles on a method of commencing with etching and finishing
with the burin; and this was in a medium in which he soon found himself
at home. But with painting he was vastly more experimental, and never
satisfied with his results, as he told Melanchthon (see p. 187). Then we
must remember that this picture probably was during Dürer's lifetime, if
not in his own possession, at least never out of his reach; and no doubt
he was aware that it was the grandest and most perfectly finished of all
his portraits--therefore, as he came more and more, especially after his
visit to the Netherlands, to desire and seek after simplicity, he may
himself have added the dark glazes. If the original inscription
contained a dedication to Pirkheimer or some other notable Nuremberger,
there was every reason for the artist who stole the picture to
obliterate this and add a new one: or this may have been done when it
became the property of the town, for those who sold it may have wished
that it should not be known that it might have been an heirloom in their
family. Infinite are the possibilities, those only decide in such cases
who have a personal motive for doing so; "la rage de conclure" (as
Flaubert saw) is the pitfall of those who are vain of their knowledge.

[Illustration: OSWOLT KREL Oil portrait in the Alt Pinakothek at Munich]

[Illustration: _By permission_ of the "_Burlington_ Magazine" ALBERT
DÜRER THE ELDER, 1497 National Gallery]

III

Though fearing that it will appear but tedious, I will now attempt
briefly to describe in succession the remaining master portraits which
we owe to Dürer, and the effect that each produces. It is by these works
and not by his creative pictures that his ranks among the greatest names
of painting. These might be compared with the very finest portraits by
Raphael and Holbein, and the precedence would remain a question of
personal predilection; since nothing reasoned, no distinguishable
superiority over Dürer in vision or execution could be urged for either.
Rather, if mere capacity were regarded, he must have the palm; nor did
either of his compeers light upon a happier subject than was Dürer's
when he represented himself; nor did they achieve nobler designs. In
effect upon our emotions and sensations, these portraits may compete
with the masterpieces of Titian and Rembrandt, though the method of
expression is in their case too different to render comparison possible.
Whatever in the glow of light, in the power of shadow, to envelop and
enhance the features portrayed, is theirs and not his, his superiority
of searching insight, united with its equivalent of unique facility in
definition, seems more than to outweigh. Before he left for Venice,
besides the renderings of himself already mentioned, Dürer had painted
his father twice, in 1494 and in 1497. The latter was the pair to and
compeer of his own portrait at Madrid,; and, hitherto unknown, was lent
last year by Lord Northampton to the Royal Academy, and has since
been bought for the National Gallery. This beautiful work is unique even
among the works of the master, and is not so much the worse for
repainting as some make out. The majority of Dürer's portraits stand
alone. In each the Esthetic problem has been approached and solved in a
strikingly different manner. This picture and its fellow, the portrait
of the painter at Madrid, the _Oswolt Krel_, the portrait of a lady seen
against the sea at Berlin, the _Wolgemut_, and Dürer's own portrait at
Munich, though seen by the same absorbing eyes, are rendered each in
quite a different manner. No man has ever been better gifted for
portraying a likeness than Dürer; but the absence of a native
comprehension of pigment made him ever restless, and it might be
possible to maintain that each of these pictures presented us with a
differing strategy to enforce pigment, to subserve the purposes of a
draughtsman. Still this would seem to imply a greater sacrifice of ease
and directness than those brilliant masterpieces can be charged with.
They none of them lack beauty of colour, of surface, or of handling,
though each so unlike the other. In this portrait of his father, Dürer
has developed a shaken brushline, admirably adapted to suggest the
wrinkled features of an old man, but in complete contrast to the rapid
sweep of the caligraphic work in the _Oswolt Krel_; and it is to be
noticed how in both pictures the touch seems to have been invented to
facilitate the rendering of the peculiar curves and lines of the
sitter's features, and further variations of it developed to express the
draperies and other component parts of the picture. It is this
inventiveness in handling which most distinguishes Dürer from painters
like Raphael and Holbein, and makes his work comparable with the
masterpieces of Rembrandt and Titian, in spite of the extreme
opposition in aspect between their work and his.

The noble portrait of a middle-aged man, No. 557c, in the Royal Gallery
at Berlin, (supposed to represent Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony,
Dürer's first patron), gives us a master portrait, in which the
technical treatment is comparable to that of the early triptych at
Dresden, and which is a monument of sober power and distinction, though
again very difficult to compare with the other splendid portraits by the
same hand which hang beside or near it in that Gallery.

The vivid _Oswolt Krel_ at Munich shows the peculiarity of Dürer's
caligraphic touch better than perhaps any other of his portraits. The
finish is not carried so far as in the Madrid portrait of himself, where
even the texture of the gloves has been softened by touches of the
thumb, and the absence of these extra refinements leaves it the most
spontaneous and vigorously bold of all Dürer's paintings. The
concentrated energy of the sitter's features demanded such a treatment;
he seems to burn with the inconsiderate atheism of a Marlowe. Young, and
less surprised than indignant to be alone awake in a sleepy and bigoted
world, he seems convinced of a mission to chastise, _even_ to scandalise
his easy-going neighbours. Let us hope he met with better luck than the
Marlowes, Shelleys, and Rimbauds, whose tragedies we have read; for one
can but regret, as one meets his glance so much fiercer than need be,
that he is not known to history.

[Illustration: Oil Portrait of a Lady seen against the Sea In the Berlin
Gallery]

[Illustration: Oil portrait, dated 1506, at Hampton Court]

The fine portrait of Hans Tucher, 1499, in the Grand Ducal Museum at
Weimar should, judging from a photograph alone, be mentioned here. It
has obvious affinities with the _Oswolt Krel_, but the caligraphic
method is again modified in harmony with the character of the
sitter's features. The companion piece, representing Felicitas Tucherin,
would seem at some period to have been restored to the insignificance
and obscurity that belonged to the sitter before Dürer painted her.

IV

The portraits which Dürer painted at Venice, or soon after his return,
betray the influence of other masterpieces on his own. Mr. Ricketts has
pointed to that of Antonello da Messina in the portraits of young men at
Vienna (1505) and at Hampton Court (1506). The former of these has an
allegorical sketch of Avarice, painted on the back in a thick impasto,
such as seems almost a presage of after developments of the Venetian
school, and may possibly show the influence of some early experiment by
Giorgione which Dürer wished to show that he could imitate if he liked.
The latter represents a personage who appears on the left of the _Feast
of Rose Wreaths_ in exactly the same cap and with the same fastening to
his jerkin, crossing his white shirt (see illustration opposite).

Not improbably Dürer may have painted separate portraits of nearly all
the members of the German Guild at Venice who appear in the _Rose
Garlands_. In any case much of his work during his stay there has
disappeared. It was here that he painted that beautiful head of a woman
(No. 557 G in the Berlin Gallery) with soft, almost Leonardesque
shadows, seen against the luminous hazy sea and sky, which remains
absolutely unique in method and effect among his works, and makes one
ask oneself unanswerable questions as to what might not have been the
result if he could but have brought himself to accept the offered
citizenship and salary, and stop on at Venice. A Dürer, not only
secluded from Luther and his troubling denunciations, but living to see
Titian and Giorgione's early masterpieces, perhaps forming friendships
with them, and later visiting Rome, standing in the Sistine Chapel,
seated in the Stanze between the School of Athens and the Disputa! I at
least cannot console myself for these missed opportunities, as so many
of his critics and biographers have done, by saying that doubtless had
he stayed he would have been spoiled like those second-class German and
Dutch painters, for whom the siren art of Italy proved a baneful
influence. One could almost weep to think of what has been probably lost
to the world because Dürer could not bring himself to stay on at Venice.
It _was_ here he painted the tiny panel representing the head of a girl
in gay apparel dated 1507 (in the Berlin Gallery), that makes one think,
even more than do Holbein's _Venus_ and _Lais_ at Basle, of the triumphs
that were reserved for Italians in the treatment of similar subjects.

After his return the influence of Venetian methods gradually waned, till
we find in the masterly and refined portrait of _Wolgemut_ (1516) (see
illustration); something of a return to the caligraphic method so
noticeable in the _Oswolt Krel_. About the same time Dürer recommenced
painting in tempera in a manner resembling the early Dresden _Madonna_
and the _Hercules_, as we see by the rather unpleasant heads of Apostles
in the Uffizi and the tine one of an old man in a vermilion cap in the
Louvre, &c. &c.

[Illustration: _Bruckmann_--"Albrecht Dürer took this likeness of his
master, Michael Wolgemut, in the year 1516, and he was 82 years of age,
and lived to the year 1519, and then departed on Saint Andrew's Day,
very early before sunrise"--Oil-painting. Alt Pinakothek, Munich]

[Illustration: HANS IMHOF (?)--From the painting in the Royal Gallery
at Madrid--(By permission _of Messrs. Braun, Clément & Co., Dornach
(Alsace), Paris and New York_)]

V

On his arrival at Antwerp in 1521 Dürer commenced the third and last
group of master-portraits; foremost is the superb head and bust at
Madrid, supposed to represent Hans Imhof, a patrician of Dürer's native
town and his banker while at Antwerp; of the same date are the
triumphant renderings of the grave and youthful Bernard van Orley (at
Dresden) and that of a middle-aged man--lost for the National Gallery,
and now in the possession of Mrs. Gardner, of Boston. All three were
probably painted at Antwerp.

It may be that the portrait of Imhof and the report of the honours and
commissions showered on their painter while in the Netherlands, woke the
Nuremberg Councillors up, for we have portraits of three of them dated
1526--Jacob Muffel, Hieronymus Holzschuher, (both in the Royal Gallery,
Berlin,) and the eccentric and unpleasing medallion representing
Johannes Kleeberger, at Vienna. With the exception of this last, this
group is composed of masterpieces absolutely unrivalled for intensity
and dignity of power. Van Eyck painted with inhuman indifference a few
ugly grotesque but otherwise uninteresting people. All but a very few of
Holbein's best portraits pale before these instances of searching
insight; and, north of the Alps at least, there are no others which can
be compared to them. The _Hans Imhof_ shows a shrewd and forbidding
schemer for gain on a large scale--a face which produces the impression
of a trap or closed strong box, but, being so alert and intelligent,
seems to demand some sort of commiseration for the constraint put upon
its humanity in the creation of a master, a tyrant over himself first
and afterwards over an ever-widening circle of others. The unknown
master who is represented in Mrs. Gardner's beautiful picture is less
forbidding, though not less patently a moulder of destiny. _Jacob
Muffel_ has a more open face, a more serene gaze; but his mouth too has
the firmness acquired by those who live always in the presence of
enemies, or are at least aware that "a little folding of the hands" may
be fatal to all their most cherished purposes. The last of these masters
of themselves and of their fortunes in hazardous and change-fraught
times is _Hieronymus Holzschuher_, Dürer's friend. Only less felicitous
because less harmonious in colour than the three former, this vivacious
portrait of a ruddy, jovial, and white-haired patrician seen against a
bright blue background might produce the effect of a Father Christmas,
were it not for the resolute mouth and the puissant side-glance of the
eyes. Bernard van Orley, the only youthful person immortalised in this
group, has a gentle, responsible air which his features are a little too
heavy to enhance.

I have now mentioned the chief of his portraits, which are the best of
his painting, and by which he ranks for the directness and power of his
workmanship and of his visual analysis in the company of the very
greatest. Raphael and Holbein have alone produced portraits which, as
they can be compared to Dürer's, might also be held to rival them;
Titian, Rubens, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Reynolds have done as
splendidly, but the material they used and the aims they set themselves
were too different to make a comparison serviceable. These men are
pre-eminent among those who have produced portraits which, while
unsurpassed for technical excellences, present to us individuals whose
beauty or the character it expresses are equally exceptional.

[Illustration: "JAKOB MUFFEL" Oil portrait in the Berlin Gallery]

CHAPTER III

DÜRER'S DRAWINGS

I

Perhaps Dürer is more felicitous as a draughtsman than in any other
branch of art. The power of nearly all first-rate artists is more wholly
live and effective in their drawings than in elaborated works. Dürer
himself says:

An artist of understanding and experience can show more of his great
power and art in small things, roughly and rudely done, than many
another in his great work. Powerful artists alone will understand that
in this strange saying I speak truth. For this reason a man may often
draw something with his pen on a half sheet of paper in one day, or cut
it with his graver on a small block of wood, and it shall be fuller of
art and better than another's great work whereon he hath spent a whole
year's careful labour.

But it is possible to go far beyond this and say not only "another's
great work," but his own great work.

In the first chapter of this work I said that the standard in works of
art is not truth but sincerity; that if the artist tells us what he
feels to be beautiful, it does not matter how much or how little
comparison it will bear with the actual objects represented. And from
this fact, that sincerity not truth is of prime importance in matters of
expression, results the strange truth that Dürer says will be
recognised by powerful artists alone (see page 227). Any one who
recognises how often the sketches and roughs of artists, especially of
those who are in a peculiar degree creators, excel their finished works
in those points which are the distinctive excellences of such men, will
grant this at once. Only to turn to the sketch (inscribed _Memento Mei
1505_) of _Death_ on horseback with a scythe, or the pen-portrait of
Dürer leaning on his hand, will be enough to convince those who alone
can be convinced on these points. For any who need to explain to
themselves the character of such sketches--as the authoress of a recent
little book on Dürer does that of the pen drawing "in which the boy's
chin rests on his hand" by telling us that "it is unfinished and was
evidently discarded as a failure,"--any who must be at such pains in a
case of this sort is one of those who can never understand wherein the
great power of a work of art resides. Such people may get great pleasure
from works of art; only I am content to remain convinced that the
pleasure they get has no kind of kinship with that which I myself
obtain, or that which the greatest artists most constantly seek to give.
This marvellous portrait of himself as a lad of from seventeen to
nineteen years of age is just one of those things "roughly and rudely
done," of which Dürer speaks. There is probably no parallel to it for
mastery or power among works produced by artists so youthful.

[Illustration: Study of a hound for the copper engraving "St. Eustache."
B. 57 Brush drawing at Windsor]

There is often some virtue in spontaneity which is difficult to define;
perhaps it bears more convincing witness to the artist's integrity than
slower and longer labours, from which it is difficult to ward all
duplicity of intention. The finishing-touch is too often a Judas' kiss.
"Blessed are the pure in heart" is absolutely true in art. (Of course,
I do not use purity in the narrow sense which is confined to avoidance
of certain sensual subjects and seductive intentions.) It is only
poverty of imagination which taboos subject-matter, and lack of charity
that believes there are themes which cannot be treated with any but
ignoble intentions. But the virtue in a spontaneous drawing is akin to
that single devotion to whatever is best, which true purity is; as the
refinement of economy which results in the finished work is akin to that
delicate repugnance to all waste, which is true chastity. A sketch by
Rembrandt of a naked servant girl on a bed is as "simple as the infancy
of truth"--as single in intention. A Greek statue of a raimentless
Apollo is pre-eminently chaste. But it does not follow that Rembrandt
was in his life eminently pure, or the Greek sculptor signal for
chastity. Drawings rapidly executed have often a lyrical, rapturous,
exultant purity, and are for that reason, to those whose eyes are
blinded neither by prejudice nor by misfortune, as captivating as are
healthy, gleeful children to those whose hearts are free. And while the
joy that a child's glee gives is for a time, that which a drawing gives
may well be for ever.

We say a "spirited sketch" as we say "a spirited horse"; but works of
art are instinct with a vast variety of spirits and exert manifold
influences. It is a poverty of language which has confined the use of
this word to one of the most obvious and least estimable. It can be
never too much insisted on that a work of art is something that exerts
an influence, and that its whole merit lies in the quality and degree of
the influence exerted; for those who are not moved by it, it is no more
than a written sentence to one who cannot read.

II

Many people in turning over a collection of Dürer's drawings would be
constantly crying, "How marvellously realistic!" and would glow with
enthusiasm and smile with gratitude for the perception which these words
expressed. Others would say "merely realistic"; and the words would
convey, if not disapprobation for something shocking, at least
indifference. In both cases the word "realistic" would, I take it, mean
that the objects which the pen, brush, or charcoal strokes represented
were described with great particularity. And in the first case delight
would have been felt at recognising the fulness of detailed information
conveyed about the objects drawn--that each drawing represented not a
generalisation, but an individual. In the other case the mind would have
been repelled by the infatuated insistence on insignificant or
negligible details, the absence of their classification and
subordination to ideas. The first of these two frames of mind is that of
Paul Pry, who is delighted to see, to touch, or behold, for whom
everything is a discovery; and there are members of this class of
temperament who in middle life continue to make the same discoveries
every day with zest and a wonder equal to that which they felt when
children. The second of these frames of mind is that of the man with a
system or in search of a system, who desires to control, or, if he
cannot do that, at least to be taken into the confidence of the
controller, or to gain a position from which he can oversee him, and
approve or disapprove. Now neither of these judgments is in itself
aesthetic, or implies a comprehension of Dürer as an artist.

[Illustration: ME-ENTO MEI, 1505. From the drawing in the British
Museum]

The man who cries out: "Just look how that is done!" "Who could have
believed a single line could have expressed so much?" judges as an
artist, a craftsman. The man who, like Jean Francois Millet, exclaims:
"How fine! How grand! How delicate! How beautiful!" judges as a creator.
He sees that "it is good." An artist--a creator--may possess either or
even both the two former temperaments; but as an artist he must be
governed by the latter two, either singly or combined. Dürer, doubtless,
had a considerable share in all four of these points of view. He
delighted in objects as such, in the new and the strange as new and
strange, in the intricate as intricate, in the powerful as powerful. And
above all in his drawings does he manifest this direct and childish
interest and curiosity. He was also in search of a system, of an
intellectual key or plan of things; and in the many drawings he devoted
to explaining or developing his ideas of proportion, of perspective, of
architecture, he shows this bias strongly. But nearly every drawing by
him, or attributed to him, manifests the third of these temperaments.
The never-ceasing economy and daring of the invention displayed in his
touch, or, as he would have said, "in his hand," is almost as signal as
his perfect assurance and composure. And when one reflects that he was
not, like Rembrandt, an artist who made great or habitual use of the
spaces of shade and light, but that his workmanship is almost entirely
confined to the expressive power of lines, wonder is only increased. Of
the fourth character that creates and estimates value, though in certain
works Dürer rises to supreme heights, though in almost all his important
works he appeases expectation, yet often where he could surely have done
much better he seems to have been content not to exert his rarest
gifts, but rather to play with or parade those that are secondary. Not
only is this so in drawings like the _Dance of Monkeys_ at Basle, done
to content his friend the reformer Felix Frey (see page 168), and in the
borders designed to amuse Maximilian during the hours that custom
ordained he should pretend to give to prayer; but there are drawings
which were not apparently thrown as sops to the idleness of others, but
done to content some half-vacant mood of his own (see Lippmann, 41, 83,
394, 4.20, 333).

In such drawings the economy and daring of the strokes is always
admirable, can only be compared to that in drawings by Rembrandt and
Hokusai; but the occasion is often idle, or treated with a condescension
which well-nigh amounts to indifference. There is no impressiveness of
allure, no intention in the proportions or disposition on the paper such
as Erasmus justly praised in the engravings on copper, probably
recollecting something which Dürer himself had said (see page 186).

Yet in his portrait heads the right proportions are nearly always found;
and in many cases I believe it is no one but the artist himself who has
cut down such drawings after they were completed, to find a more
harmonious or impressive proportion (see illustration opposite). And
often these drawings are as perfect in the harmony between the means
employed and the aspect chosen, and in the proportion between the head
and the framing line and the spaces it encloses, as Holbein himself
could have made them; while they far surpass his best in brilliancy and
intensity.

[Illustration: Drawing in black chalk heightened with white on reddish
ground Formerly in the collection at Warwick Castle]

[Illustration: Silver-point drawing on prepared grey ground, in the
collection of Frederick Locker, Esq.]

III

Something must be said of Dürer's employment of the water-colours,
pen-and-ink, silver-point, charcoal, chalk, &c., with which he made his
drawings. He is a complete master of each and all these mediums, in so
far as the line or stroke may be regarded as the fundamental unit; he is
equally effective with the broad, soft line of chalk (see illustration,
page I.), or the broad broken charcoal line (see illustration, page
II.), as with the fine pen stroke (see illustration, page III.), the
delicate silver-point (see illustration, page IV.), or the supple and
tapering stroke produced by the camel's hair brush (see illustration,
page V.). But when one comes to broad washes, large masses of light and
shade, the expression of atmosphere, of bloom, of light, he is wanting
in proportion as these effects become vague, cloudy, indefinite,
mist-like. His success lies rather in the definite reflections on
polished surfaces; he never reproduces for us the bloom on peach or
flesh or petal. He does not revel, like Rembrandt, in the veils and
mysteries of lucent atmosphere or muffling shadow. The emotions for
which such things produce the most harmonious surroundings he hardly
ever attempts to appeal to; he is mournful and compassionate, or
indignant, for the sufferings, of his Man of Sorrows; not tender,
romantic, or awesome. Only with the tapering tenuity and delicate spring
of the pure line will he sometimes attain to an infantile or virginal
freshness that is akin to the tenderness of the bloom on flowers, or the
light of dawn on an autumn morning.[75]

In the same way, when he is tragic, it is not with thick clouds rent in
the fury of their flight, or with the light from shaken torches cast and
scattered like spume-flakes from the angry waves; nor is it with the
accumulated night that gives intense significance to a single tranquil
ray. Only by a Rembrandt, to whom these means are daily present, could a
subject like the _Massacre of the Ten Thousand_ have been treated with
dramatic propriety; unless, indeed, Michael Angelo, in a grey dawn,
should have twisted and wrung with manifold pain a tribe of giants,
stark, and herded in some leafless primeval valley. With Dürer the
occasion was merely one on which to coldly invent variations, as though
this human suffering was a motive for _an_ arabesque. Yet even from the
days when he copied Andrea Mantegna's struggling sea-monsters, or when
he drew the stern matured warrior angels of his Apocalypse fighting,
with their historied faces like men hardened by deceptions practised
upon them, like men who have forbidden salt tears and clenched their
teeth and closed their hearts, who see, who hate; even from these early
days, the energy of his line was capable of all this, and his
spontaneous sense of arabesque could become menacing and explosive.
There are two or three drawings of angry, crying cupids (Lipp., 153 and
446, see illustration opposite), prepared for some intended picture of
the Crucifixion, where he has made the motive of the winged infants
head, usually associated with bliss and scattered rose-leaves, become
terrible and stormy. And the _Agony in the Garden_, etched on iron,
contains a tree tortured by the wind (see illustration), as marvellous
for rhythm, power, and invention as the blast-whipped brambles and naked
bushes that crest a scarped brow above the jealous husband who stabs his
wife, in Titian's fresco at Padua. Again, the unspeakable tragedy of the
stooping figure of Jesus, who is being dragged by His hair up the steps
to Annas' throne, in the _Little Passion_, is rendered by lines instinct
with the highest dramatic power. These are a draughtsman's creations;
though they are less abundant in Dürer's work than one could wish, still
only the greatest produce such effects; only Michael Angelo, Titian, and
Rembrandt can be said to have equalled or surpassed Dürer in this kind,
rarely though it be that he competes with them.

[Illustration: CHERUB FOR A CRUCIFIXION Black chalk drawing heightened
with white on a blue-grey paper In the collection of Herr Doctor
Blasius, Brunswick]

It is for the intense energy of his line, combined with its unique
assurance, that Dürer is most remarkable. The same amount of detail, the
same correctness in the articulation and relation between stem and leaf,
arm and hand, or what not, might be attained by an insipid workmanship
with lifeless lines, in patient drudgery. It is this fact that those who
praise art merely as an imitation constantly forget. There is often as
much invention in the way details are expressed by the strokes of pen or
brush, as there could be in the grouping of a crowd; the deftness, the
economy of the touches, counts for more in the inspiriting effect than
the truth of the imitation. A photograph from nature never conveys this,
the chief and most fundamental merit of art. Reynolds says:

Rembrandt, in older to take advantage of an accident, appears often to
have used the pallet-knife to lay his colours on the canvas instead of
the pencil. Whether it is the knife or any other instrument, _it
suffices, if it is something that does not follow exactly the will.
Accident, in the hands of_ an artist _who knows horn to take the
advantage of its hints, will often produce bold and capricious beauties
of handling_, and facility such as he would not have thought of or
ventured with his pencil, under the regular restraint of his hand.[76]

In such a sketch as the _Memento Mei_, 1505, (_Death_ riding on
horseback,) all those who have sense for such things will perceive how
the rough paper, combined with the broken charcoal line, lends itself to
qualities of a precisely similar nature to those described by Reynolds
as obtained by Rembrandt's use of the pallet-knife. Yet, just as, in the
use of charcoal, the "something that does not follow exactly the will"
is infinitely more subtle than in the use of the palette-knife to
represent rocks or stumps of trees, so in the pen or silver-point line
this element, though reduced and refined till it is hardly perceptible,
still exists, and Dürer takes "the advantage of its hints." And not only
does he do' this, but he foresees their occurrence, and relies on them
to render such things as crumpled skin, as in the sketches for Adam's
hand holding the apple. (Lipp. 234). The operation is so rapid, so
instantaneous, that it must be called an instinct, or at least a habit
become second nature, while in the instance chosen by Reynolds, it is
obvious and can be imagined step by step; but in every case it is this
capacity to take advantage of the accident, and foresee and calculate
upon its probable occurrences, that makes the handling of any material
inventive, bold, and inimitable. It is in these qualities that an artist
is the scholar of the materials he employs, and goes to school to the
capacities of his own hand, being taught both by their failure to obey
his will here, and by their facility in rendering his subtlest
intentions there. And when he has mastered all they have to teach him,
he can make their awkwardness and defects expressive; as stammerers
sometimes take advantage of their impediment so that in itself it
becomes an element of eloquence, of charm, or even of explicitness;
while the extra attention rendered enables them to fetch about and dare
to express things that the fluent would feel to be impossible and
never attempt.

[Illustration: APOLLO AND DIANA--Pen drawing in the British Museum,
supposed to show the influence of the Belvedere Apollo]

IV

Lastly, it is in his drawings, perhaps, even more than in his copper
engravings, that Dürer proves himself a master of "the art of seeing
nature," as Reynolds phrased it; and the following sentence makes clear
what is meant, for he says of painting "perhaps it ought to be as far
removed from the vulgar idea of imitation, as the refined, civilised
state in which we live is removed from a gross state of nature";[77] and
again: "If we suppose a view of nature, represented with all the truth
of the camera obscura, and the same scene represented by a great artist,
how little and how mean will the one appear in comparison of the other,
where no superiority is supposed from the choice of the subject."[78]
Not only is outward nature infinitely varied, infinitely composite; but
human nature--receptive and creative--is so too, and after we have gazed
at an object for a few moments, we no longer see it the same as it was
revealed to our first glance. Not only has its appearance changed for
us, but the effect that it produces on our emotions and intelligence is
no longer the same. Each successful mind, according to its degree of
culture, arrives finally at a perception of every class of objects
presented to it which is most in agreement with its own nature--that is,
calls forth or nourishes its most cherished energies and efforts, while
harmonising with its choicest memories. All objects in regard to which
it cannot arrive at such a result oppress, depress, or even torment it.
At least this is the case with our highest and most creative moods; but
every man of parts has a vast range of moods, descending from this to
the almost vacant contemplation of a cow--the innocence of whose eye,
which perceives what is before it without transmuting it by recollection
or creative effort, must appear almost ideal to the up-to-date critic
who has recently revealed the innocent confusion of his mind in a
ponderous tome on nineteenth-century art. The art of seeing nature,
then, consists in being able to recognise how an object appears in
harmony with any given mood; and the artist must employ his materials to
suggest that appearance with the least expenditure of painful effort.
The highest art sees all things in harmony with man's most elevated
moods; the lowest sees nature much as Dutch painters and cows do. Now we
can understand what Goethe means when he says that "Albrecht Dürer
enjoyed the advantages of a profound realistic perception, and an
affectionate human sympathy with all present conditions." The man who
continued to feel, after he had become a Lutheran, the beauty of the art
that honoured the Virgin, the man who cannot help laughing at the most
"lying, thievish rascals" whenever they talk to him because "they know
that their knavery is no secret, but 'they don't mind,'" is
affectionate; he is amused by monkeys and the rhinoceros; he can bear
with Pirkheimer's bad temper; he looks out of kindly eyes that allow
their perception of strangeness or oddity to redeem the impression that
might otherwise have been produced by vice, or uncouthness, or
sullen frowns.

I have supposed that a realistic perception was one which saw things
with great particularity; and the words "a profound realistic
perception" to Goethe's mind probably conveyed the idea of such a
perception, in profound accord with human nature, that is where the
human recognition, delight and acceptance followed the perception even
to the smallest details, without growing weary or failing to find at
least a hope of significance in them. If this was what the great critic
meant, those who turn over a collection of Dürer's drawings will feel
that they are profoundly realistic (realistic in a profoundly human
sense), and that their author enjoyed an affectionate human sympathy
with all present conditions; and by these two qualities is infinitely
distinguished from all possessors of so-called innocent eyes, whether
quadruped or biped.

It is well to notice wherein this notion of Goethe's differs from the
conventional notions which make up everybody's criticism. For instance,
"In all his pictures he confined himself to facts," says Sir Martin
Conway,[79] and then immediately qualifies this by adding, "He painted
events as truly as his imagination could conceive them." We may safely
say that no painter of the first rank has ever confined himself to
facts. Nor can we take the second sentence as it stands. Any one who
looks at the _Trinity_ in the Imperial Gallery at Vienna will see at
once that the artist who painted it did not shut his eyes and try to
conjure up a vision of the scene to be represented; the ordering of the
picture shows plainly throughout that a foregone conventional
arrangement, joined with the convenience of the methods of
representation to be employed, dictated nearly the whole composition,
and that the details, costumes, &c., were gradually added, being chosen
to enhance the congruity or variety of what was already given. Perhaps
it was never a prime object with Dürer to conceive the event, it was
rather the picture that he attempted to conceive; it is Rembrandt who
attempts to conceive events, not Dürer. He is very far from being a
realist in this sense: though certain of his etchings possess a
considerable degree of such realism, it is not what characterises him as
a creator or inventor. But a "profound realistic perception" almost
unequalled he did possess; what he saw he painted not as he saw it, not
where he saw it, but as it appeared to him to really be. So he painted
real girls, plain, ugly or pretty as the case might be, for angels, and
put them in the sky; but for their wings he would draw on his fancy.
Often the folds of a piece of drapery so delighted him that they are
continued for their own sake and float out where there is no wind to
support them, or he would develop their intricacies beyond every
possibility of conceivable train or other superfluity of real garments;
and it is this necessity to be richer and more magnificent than
probability permits which brings us to the creator in Dürer; not only
had he a profound realistic perception of what the world was like, but
he had an imagination that suggested to him that many things could be
played with, embroidered upon, made handsomer, richer or more
impressive. When Goethe adds that "he was retarded by a gloomy fantasy
devoid of form or foundation," we perceive that the great critic is
speaking petulantly or without sufficient knowledge. Dürer's gloomy
fantasy, the grotesque element in his pictures and prints, was not his
own creation, it is not peculiar to him, he accepted it from tradition
and custom (see Plate "Descent into Hell"). What is really
characteristic of him is the richness displayed in devils' scales and
wings, in curling hair or crumpled drapery, or flame, or smoke, or
cloud, or halo; and, still more particularly, his is the energy of line
or fertility of invention with which all these are displayed, and the
dignity or austerity which results from the general proportion of the
masses and main lines of his composition.

V

For the illustration of this volume I have chosen a larger proportion of
drawings than of any other class of work; both because Dürer's drawings
are less widely known than his engravings on metal, and because, though
his fame may perhaps rest almost equally on these latter, and they may
rightly be considered more unique in character, yet his drawings show
the splendid creativeness of his handling of materials in greater
variety. One engraving on copper is like another in the essential
problem that it offered to the craftsman to resolve; but every different
medium in which Dürer made drawings, and every variety of surface on
which he drew, offered a different problem, and perhaps no other artist
can compare with him in the great variety of such problems which he has
solved with felicity. And this power of his to modify his method with
changing conditions is, as we have seen, from the technical side the
highest and greatest quality that an artist can possess. It only fails
him when he has to deal with oil paintings, and even there he shows a
corresponding sense of the nature of the problems involved, if he shows
less felicity on the whole in solving them; and perhaps could he have
stayed at Venice and have had the results of Giorgione's and Titian's
experiments to suggest the right road, we should have been scarcely able
to perceive that he was less gifted as a painter than as draughtsman. As
it is, he has given us water-colour sketches in which the blot is used
to render the foliage of trees in a manner till then unprecedented.
(Lipp. 132, &c.) He can rival Watteau in the use of soft chalk, Leonardo
in the use of the pen, and Van Eyck in the use of the brush point; and
there are examples of every intermediate treatment to form a chain
across the gulf that separates these widely differing modes of graphic
expression. There can be no need to point the application of these
remarks to the individual drawings here reproduced; those who are
capable of recognising it will do so without difficulty.

[Illustration: AN OLD CASTLE Body-dour drawing at Bremen]

VI

In conclusion, Dürer appears as a draughtsman of unrivalled powers. And
when one looks on his drawings as what they most truly were, his
preparation for the tasks set him by the conditions of his life, there
is room for nothing but unmixed admiration. It is only when one asks
whether those tasks might not have been more worthy of such high gifts
that one is conscious of deficiency or misfortune. And can one help
asking whether the Emperor Max might not have given Dürer his Bible or
his Virgil to illustrate, instead of demanding to have the borders of
his "Book of Hours" rendered amusing with fantastic and curious
arabesques; whether Dürer's learned friends, instead of requiring from
him recondite or ceremonious allegories, might not have demanded
title-pages of classic propriety; or whether the imperial bent of his
own imagination might not have rendered their demands malleable, and bid
them call for a series of woodcuts, engravings or drawings, which could
rival Rembrandt's etchings in significance of subject-matter and
imaginative treatment, as they rival them in executive power? In his
portraits--the large majority of which have come down to us only as
drawings, the majority of which were never anything else--the demand
made upon him was worthy; but even here Holbein, a man of lesser gift
and power, has perhaps succeeded in leaving a more dignified, a more
satisfying series; one containing, if not so many masterpieces, fewer on
which an accidental or trivial subject or mood has left its impress.
Yet, in spite of this, it is Dürer's, not Rembrandt's, not Holbein's
character, that impresses us as most serious, most worthy to be held as
a model. It is before his portrait of himself that Mr. Ricketts "forgets
all other portraits whatsoever, in the sense that this perfect
realisation of one of the world's greatest men is worthy of the
occasion." So that we feel bound to attribute our dissatisfaction to
something in his circumstances having hindered and hampered the flow of
what was finest in his nature into his work. From Venice he wrote: "I am
a gentleman here, but only a hanger-on at home." Germany was a better
home for a great character, a great personality, than for a great
artist: Dürer the artist was never quite at home there, never a
gentleman among his peers. The good and solid burghers rated him as a
good and solid burgher, worth so much per annum; never as endowed with
the rank of his unique gift. It was only at Venice and Antwerp that he
was welcomed as the Albert Dürer whom we to-day know, love, and honour.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 75: See the exquisite landscape in the collection of Mr. C. S.
Ricketts and Mr. C. H. Shannon, reproduced in the sixth folio of the
Dürer Society, 1903. Mr. Campbell Dodgson describes the drawing as in a
measure spoilt by retouching, but what convinces him that these
retouches are not by Dürer? The pen-work seems to be at once too clever
and too careless to have been added by another hand to preserve a
fading drawing.]

[Footnote 76: XII. Discourse.]

[Footnote 77: XIII, Discourse.]

[Footnote 78: Ibid.]

[Footnote 79: Literary Remains of Albrecht Dürer, p. I 50.]

CHAPTER IV

DÜRER'S METAL ENGRAVINGS

I

For the artist or designer the chief difference between the engraving
done on a wood block and that done on metal lies in the thickness of the
line. The engraved line in a wood block is in relief, that on a metal
plate is entrenched; the ink in the one case is applied to the crest of
a ridge, in the other it fills a groove into which the surface of the
paper is squeezed. Though lines almost as fine as those possible on
metal have been achieved by wood engravers, in doing this they force the
nature of their medium, whereas on a copper plate fine lines come
naturally. Perhaps no section of Dürer's work reveals his unique powers
so thoroughly as his engravings on metal. They were entirely his own
work both in design and execution; and no expenditure of pains or
patience seems to have limited his intentions, or to have hindered his
execution or rendered it less vital. And perhaps it is this fact which
witnesses with our spirit and bids us recognise the master: rather than
the comprehension of natural forms which he evinces, subtle and vigorous
though it be; or than the symbols and types which he composed from such
forms for the traditional and novel ideas of his day. And this
unweariable assiduity of his is continually employed in the discovery
of very noble arabesques of line and patterns in black and white, more
varied than the grain in satin wood or the clustering and dispersion of
the stars. Intensity of application, constancy of purpose, when revealed
to us by beautifully variegated surfaces, the result of human toil, may
well impress us, may rightly impress us, more than quaint and antiquated
notions about the four temperaments, or about witches and their
sabbaths, or about virtues and vices embodied in misconceptions of the
characters of pagan divinities, and in legends about them which scholars
had just begun to translate with great difficulty and very ill. It is
the astonishing assurance of the central human will for perfection that
awes us; this perception that flinches at no difficulty, this perception
of how greatly beauty deserves to be embodied in human creations and
given permanence to.

II

In the encomium which Erasmus wrote of Albert Dürer he dealt, as one
sees by the passage quoted (p. 186), with Dürer's engraved work almost
exclusively. Perhaps the great humanist had seen no paintings by Dürer,
and very likely had heard Dürer himself disparage them, as Melanchthon
tells us was his wont (p. 187). We know that Dürer gave Erasmus some of
his engravings, and we may feel sure that he was questioned pretty
closely as to what were the aims of his art, and wherein he seemed to
himself to have best succeeded. The sentence I underlined (on p. 186)
gives us probably some reflection of Dürer's reply. We must remember
that Erasmus, from his classical knowledge as to how Apelles was
praised, was full of the idea that art was an imitation, and may
probably have refused to understand what Dürer may very likely have told
him in modification of this view; or he may by citing his Greek and
Latin sources have prevented the reverent Dürer from being outspoken on
the point. But though most of his praise seems mere literary
commonplace, the sentence underlined strikes us as having
another source.

"He reproduces not merely the natural aspect of a thing, but also
observes the laws of perfect symmetry and harmony with regard to the
position of it." How one would like to have heard Dürer, as Erasmus may
probably have heard him, explain the principles on which he composed! No
doubt there is no very radical difference between his sense of
composition and that of other great artists. But to hear one so
preoccupied with explaining his processes to himself discourse on this
difficult subject would be great gain. For though there are doubtless no
absolute rules, and the appeal is always to a refined sense for
proportion,--yet to hear a creator speak of such things is to have this
sense, as it were, washed and rendered delicate once more. We can but
regret that Erasmus has not saved us something fuller than this hint. In
the same way, how tempting is the criticism that Camerarius gives of
Mantegna,--we feel that Dürer's own is behind it; but as it stands it is
disjointed and absurd, like some of the incomplete and confused parables
which give us a glimpse of how much more was lost than was preserved by
the reporters of the sayings of Jesus. It is the same thing with the
reported sayings of Michael Angelo, and indeed of all other great men.
It is impossible to accept "his hand was not trained to follow the
perception and nimbleness of his mind" as Dürer's dictum on Mantegna;
but how suggestive is the allusion to "broken and scattered statues set
up as examples of art," for artists to form themselves upon! Yet the
fact that Dürer missed coming into contact not only with Mantegna but
with Titian, Leonardo, Raphael, Michael Angelo, is indeed the saddest
fact in regard to his life. We can well believe that he felt it in
Mantegna's case. Ah! Why could he not bring himself to accept the
overtures made to him, and become a citizen of Venice?

III

The subjects of these engravings are even generally trivial or
antiquated, either in themselves or by the way they are approached.
Perhaps alone among them the figure of Jesus, as it is drawn in the
various series on copper and wood illustrating the Passion, is conceived
in a manner which touches us to-day with the directness of a revelation;
and even this cannot be compared to the same figure in Rembrandt
etchings and drawings, either for essential adequacy, or for various and
convincing application. No, we must consent to let the expression "great
thoughts" drop out of our appreciation of Dürer's works, and be replaced
by the "great character" latent in them.

However, one among Dürer's engravings on copper stands out from among
the rest, and indeed from all his works. In the _Melancholy_ the
composition is not more dignified in its spacing and proportion; the
arabesque of line is not richer or sweeter, the variations from black to
white are not more handsome, than in some half dozen of his other
engravings. No, by its conception alone the _Melancholy_ attains to its
unique impressiveness. And it is the impressiveness of an image, not the
impressiveness of an idea or situation, as in the case of the _Knight,
Death, and the Devil_, by which almost as much bad literature has been
inspired. There is nothing to choose between the workmanship of the two
plates; both are absolutely impeccable, and outside the work of Dürer
himself, unrivalled. The _Melancholy_ is the only creation by a German
which appears to me to invite and sustain comparison with the works of
the greatest Italian. In it we have the impressiveness that belongs only
to the image, the thing conceived for mental vision, and addressed to
the eye exclusively. If there was an allegory, or if the plate formed
(as has been imagined) one of a series representative of the four
temperaments, the eye and the visual imagination are addressed with such
force and felicity that the inquiries which attempt to answer these
questions must for ever appear impertinent. They may add some languid
interest to the contemplation which is sated with admiring the
impeccable mastery of the Knight; for that plate always seems to me the
mere illustration of a literary idea, a sheer statement of items which
require to be connected by some story, and some of which have the crude
obviousness of folk-lore symbols, without their racy and genial naïvety.
They have not been fused in the rapture of some unique mood, not
focussed by the intensity of an emotion. With the _Melancholy_ all is
different; perhaps among all his works only Dürer's most haunting
portrait of himself has an equal or even similar power to bind us in its
spell. For this reason I attempt the following comparison between the
_Sibyls_ of the Sistine Chapel and the _Melancholy_ a comparison which I
do not suppose to have any other value or force than that of a stimulant
to the imagination which the works themselves address.

[Illustration: MELANCHOLIA Copper engraving, B. 74]

The impetuosity of his Southern blood drives Michael Angelo to betray
his intention of impressing in the pose and build of his Sibyls. Large
and exceptional women, "limbed" and thewed as gods are, with an habitual
command of gesture, they lift down or open their books or unwind their
scrolls like those accustomed to be the cynosure of many eyes, who have
lived before crowds of inferiors, a spectacle of dignity from their
childhood upwards. On the other hand, the pose and build of the
_Melancholy_ must have been those of many a matron in Nuremberg. It is
not till we come to the face that we find traits that correspond with
the obvious symbolism of the wings and wreath, or the serious richness
of the black and white effect of the composition; but that face holds
our attention as not even the Sibylla Delphica cannot by beauty, not by
conscious inspiration, but by the spell of unanswerable thought, by the
power to brood, by the patience that can and dare go unresolved for many
years. Everything is begun about her; she cannot see unto the end; she
is powerful, she is capable in many works, she has borne children, she
rests from her labours, and her thought wanders, sleeps or dreams. The
spirit of the North, with its industry, its cool-headed calculation, its
abundance in contrivance, its elaboration of duty and accumulation of
possessions--there she sits, absorbed, unsatisfied. Impetuosity and the
frank avowal of intention are themselves an expression of the will to
create that which is desirable; they can but form the habit of every
artist under happy circumstances. They proceed on the expectation of
immediate effectiveness, they belong to power in action; while, if
beauty be not impetuous, she is frank, and adds to the avowal of her
intention the promise of its fulfilment. The work of art and the artist
are essentially open; they promise intimacy, and fulfil that promise
with entirety when successful. Nor is anything so impressive as intimacy
which implies a perfect sincerity, a complete revelation, a gift without
reserve, increase without let. But the circumstances of the artist never
are happy: even Michael Angelo's were not. An intense brooding
melancholy arises from the repressed and baffled desire to create; and
in some measure this gloom of failure underlying their success is a
necessary character of all lovely and spiritual creations in this world.
Now Michael Angelo's works, because of their Southern impetuosity and
volubility, are not so instinct with this divine sorrow, this immobility
of the soul face to face with evil, as is Dürer's _Melancholy_. He
inspires and exhilarates us more, but takes us out of ourselves rather
than leads us home.

Here is Dürer's success: let and hindered as it really is, he makes us
feel the inalienable constancy of rational desire, watching adverse
circumstance as one beast of prey watches another. She keeps hold on the
bird she has caught, the ideal that perhaps she will never fully enjoy.
Michael Angelo pictures for us freedom from trammels, the freedom that
action, thought and ecstasy give, the freedom that is granted to beauty
by all who recognise it; Dürer shows us the constancy that bridges the
intervals between such free hours, that gives continuity to man's
necessarily spasmodic effort. Thus he typifies for us the Northern
genius: as Michael Angelo's athletes might typify by their naked beauty
and the unexplained impressiveness of their gestures, the genius of the
sudden South--sudden in action, sudden in thought, suddenly mature,
suddenly asleep--as day changes to night and night to day the more
rapidly as the tropics are approached.

[Illustration: Detail enlarged from the "Agony in the Garden." Etching on
Iron, B. 19 _Between_ pp. 250 & 251]

[Illustration: ANGEL WITH THE SUDARIUM Engraving in Iron, 1516. B. 26
_Between_ pp. 250 & 251]

Instances of the highest imaginative power are rare in Dürer's work. The
_Melancholy_ has had a world-wide success. The _Knight, Death and the
Devil_ has one almost equal, but which is based on the facility with
which it is associated with certain ideas dear to Christian culture,
rather than on the creation of the mood in which these ideas arise. It
does not move us until we know that it is an illustration of Erasmus's
Christian Knight. Then all its dignity and mastery and the supremacy of
the gifts employed on it are brought into touch with the idea, and each
admirer operates, according to his imaginativeness, something of the
transformation which Dürer had let slip or cool down before
realising it.

IV

Among the prints with lesser reputations are several which attain a far
higher success. There is the iron plate of the _Agony in the Garden,_ B.
19, already mentioned (p. 235), in which the storm-tortured tree and the
broken light and shade are full of dramatic power (see illustration),
the _Angel with the Sudarium_, B. 26, where the arabesque of the folds
of drapery and cloud unite with the daring invention of the central
figure to create a mood entirely consonant with the subject. There is
the woman carried off by a man on an unicorn, in which the turbulence of
the subject is expressed with unrivalled force by the rich and beautiful
arabesque and black and white pattern.

B. Nos. 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 16, 18, of the _Little Passion_, on
copper, are all of them noteworthy successes of more or less the same
kind; and in these, too, we come upon that racy sense for narration
which can enhance dramatic import by emphasising some seemingly trivial
circumstance, as in the gouty stiffness of one of Christ's scourgers in
the _Flagellation_, or the abnormal ugliness of the man who with such
perfect gravity holds the basin while Pilate _washes his hands:_ while
in the _Crown of Thorns_ and _Descent into Hades_ we have peculiarly
fine and suitable black and white patterns, and in the _Peter and John
at the Beautiful Gate_[80] and the _Ecce Homo_ figures of monumental
dignity in tiny gems of glowing engraver's work. The repose and serenity
of the lovely little _St. Antony_;[81] the subsidence of commotion in
the noonday victory of the little _St. George on foot_, B. 53--perhaps
the most perfect diamond in the whole brilliant chain of little plates,
or the staid naïvety of the enchanting _Apollo and Diana_, B. 68;[82]
who shall prefer among these things? Every time we go through them we
choose out another until we return to the most popular and slightly
obvious _St. George on Horseback_, B. 54. Next come the dainty series of
little plates in honour of Our Lady the Mother of God, commencing before
Dürer made a rule of dating his plates; before 1503 and continuing till
after 1520, in which the last are the least worthy. Among these the
Virgin embracing her Child at the foot of a tree, B. 34, dated 1513; The
Virgin standing on the crescent moon, her baby in one arm, her sceptre
in the other hand and the stars of her crown blown sideways as she bows
her head, B. 32, dated 1516, and the stately and monumental Virgin
seated by a wall, B. 40, dated 1514, are at present my favourites. And
to these succeeded the noble army of Apostles and Martyrs of which the
more part are dated from 1521 to 1526, though two, B. 48 and 50, fall as
early as 1514.

[Illustration: THE SMALL HORSE--Copper Engraving, B. 96]

Then amongst the most perfect larger plates I cannot refrain from
mentioning the _St. Jerome_, B. 60, with its homely seclusion as of
Dürer's own best parlour in summer time which not even the presence of a
lion can disturb; the idyllic and captivating _St. Hubert_, B. 57; the
august and tranquil _Cannon_, B. 99: and lastly, perhaps, in the little
_Horse_, B. 96, we come upon a theme and motive of the kind best suited
to Dürer's peculiar powers, in which he produces an effect really
comparable to those of the old Greek masters, about whose lost works he
was so eager for scraps of information, and whose fame haunted him even
into his slumbers, so that he dreamed of them and of those who should
"give a future to their past." This delightful work may illustrate an
allegory now grown dark or some misconception of a Grecian story; but
though the relation between the items that compose it should remain for
ever unexplained, its beauty, like that of some Greek sculpture that has
been admired under many names, continues its spell, and speaks of how
the simplicity, austerity and noble proportions of classical art were
potent with the spirit of the great Nuremberg artist, and occasionally
had free way with him, in spite of all there was in his circumstances
and origins to impede or divert them. (See also the spirited drawing,
Lipp. 366.)

V

It would be idle to attempt to say something about every masterpiece in
Dürer's splendidly copious work on metal plates. There is perhaps not
one of these engravings that is not vital upon one side or another,
amazingly few that are not vital upon many. One other work, however,
which has been much criticised and generally misunderstood, it may be as
well to examine at more length, especially as it illustrates what was
often Dürer's practice in regard to his theories about proportion, with
which my next Part will deal. I speak of the _Great Fortune_ or
_Nemesis_ (B. 77). His practice at other times is illustrated by the
splendid _Adam and Eve_ (B. 1), over the production of which the nature
of the canon he suggested was perhaps first thoroughly worked out. But
before this and afterwards too he no doubt frequently followed the
advice he gives in the following passage.

To him that setteth himself to draw figures according to this book, not
being well taught beforehand, the matter will at first become hard. Let
him then put a man before him, who agreeth, as nearly as may be, _with
the proportions he desireth_; and let him draw him in outline according
to his knowledge and power. And a man is held to have done well if he
attain accurately to copy a figure according to the life, so that his
drawing resembleth the figure and is like unto nature. _And in
particular if the thing copied as beautiful; then is the copy held to be
artistic_, and, as it deserveth, it is highly praised.

Dürer himself would seem to have very often followed his own advice in
this. The _Great Fortune_ or Nemesis is a case in point. The remarks of
critics on this superb engraving are very strange and wide. Professor
Thausing said, "Embodied in this powerful female form, the Northern
worship of nature here makes its first conscious and triumphant
appearance in the history of art." With the work of the great Jan Van
Eyck in one's mind's eye, of course this will appear one of those
little lapses of memory so convenient to German national sentiment.
"Everything that, according to our aesthetic formalism based on the
antique, we should consider beautiful, is sacrificed to truth." (I have
already pointed out that this use of the word "truth" in matters of art
constitutes a fallacy)[83] "And yet our taste must bow before the
imperishable fidelity to nature displayed in these forms, the fulness of
life that animates these limbs." Of course, "imperishable fidelity to
nature" and "taste that bows before it" are merely the figures of a
clumsy rhetoric. But the idea they imply is one of the most common of
vulgar errors in regard to works of art. In the first place one must
remind our enthusiastic German that it is an engraving and not a woman
that we are discussing; and that this engraving is extremely beautiful
in arabesque and black and white pattern, rich, rhythmical and
harmonious; and that there is no reason why our taste should be violated
in having to bow submissively before such beauties as these, which it is
a pleasure to worship. Now we come to the subject as presented to the
intelligence, after the quick receptive eye has been satiated with
beauty. Our German guide exclaims, "Not misled by cold definite rules of
proportion, he gave himself up to unrestrained realism in the
presentation of the female form." Our first remark is, that though the
treatment of this female form may perhaps be called realistic, this
adjective cannot be made to apply to the figure as a whole. This
massively built matron is winged; she stands on a small globe suspended
in the heavens, which have opened and are furled up like a garment in a
manner entirely conventional. She carries a scarf which behaves as no
fabric known to me would behave even under such exceptional and
thrilling circumstances.

Dr. Carl Giehlow has recently suggested that this splendid engraving
illustrates the following Latin verses by Poliziano:

Est dea, quse vacuo sublimis in aëre pendens
It nimbo succincta latus, sed candida pallam,
Sed radiata comam, ac stridentibus insonat alis.
Haec spes immodicas premit, haec infesta superbis
Imminet, huic celsas hominum contundere mentes
Incessusque datum et nimios turbare paratus.
Quam veteres Nemesin genitam de nocte silenti
Oceano discere patri. Stant sidera fronti.
Frena manu pateramque gerit, semperque verendum
Ridet et insanis obstat contraria coeptis.
Improba vota domans ac summis ima revolvens
Miscet et alterna nostros vice temperat actus.
Atque hue atque illuc ventorum turbine fertur.

There is a goddess, who, aloft in the empty air, advances girdled about
with a cloud, but with a shining white cloak and a glory in her hair,
and makes a rushing with her wings. She it is who crushes extravagant
hopes, who threatens the proud, to whom is given to beat down the
haughty spirit and the haughty step, and to confound over-great
possessions. Her the men of old called Nemesis, born to Ocean from the
womb of silent Night. Stars stand upon her forehead. In her hand she
bears bridles and a chalice, and smiles for ever with an awful smile,
and stands resisting mad designs. Turning to nought the prayers of the
wicked and setting the low above the high she puts one in the other's
place and rules the scenes of life with alternation. And she is borne
hither and thither on the wings of the whirlwind.

If this suggestion is a good one it shows us that Dürer was no more
consistently literal than he was realistic. The most striking features
of his illustration are just those to which his text offers no
counterpart, i.e., the nudity and physical maturity of his goddess.
Neither has he girdled her about with cloud nor stood stars upon her
forehead. I must confess that I find it hard to believe that there was
any close connection present to his mind between his engraving and
these verses.

In a former chapter I have spoken of the fashion in female dress then
prevalent; how it underlined whatever is most essential in the physical
attributes of womanhood, and how probably something of good taste is
shown in this fashion (see pp. 92 and 93). What I there said will
explain Dürer's choice in this matter; and also that what Thausing felt
bow in him was not taste, but his prejudices in regard to womanly
attractiveness, and his misconception as to where the beauty of an
engraving should be looked for and in what it consists. These same
prejudices and misconceptions render Mrs. Heaton (as is only natural in
one of the weaker sex) very bold. She says, "A large naked winged woman,
whose ugliness is perfectly repulsive." This object, I must confess,
appears to me, a coarse male, "welcome to contemplation of the mind and
eye." The splendid Venus in Titian's _Sacred and Profane Love_, or his
_Ariadne_ at Madrid; or Raphael's _Galatea_; or Michael Angelo's _Eve_
(on the Sistine vault) are all of them doubtless far more akin to the
_Aphrodite_ of Praxiteles, or to her who crouches in the Louvre, than is
this _Nemesis_; but we must not forget that they are works on a scale
more comparable with a marble statue; and that in works of which the
scale is more similar to that of our engraving, Greek taste was often
far more with Dürer than with Thausing. This is an important point,
though one which is rarely appreciated. However, there is no reason why
we should condemn "misled by cold definite rules of taste" even such
pictures as Rembrandt's _Bathing Woman_ in the Louvre, though here the
proportions of the work are heroic. Oil painting was an art not
practised by the Greeks, and this medium lends itself to beauties which
their materials put entirely out of reach. Besides, Rembrandt appealed
to an audience who had been educated by Christian ideals to appreciate a
pathos produced by the juxtaposition of the fact with the ideal, and of
the creature with the creator, to appeal to which a Greek would have had
to be far more circumspect in his address--even if he had, through an
exceptional docility and receptiveness of character, come under its
influence himself. These considerations when apprehended will, I
believe, suffice to dispel both prejudice and misconception in regard to
this matter; and we shall find in Professor Thausing's remarks relative
to the treatment of the "female form divine" in this engraving no
additional reason for considering it a comparatively early work. And we
shall only smile when he tells us "The _Nemesis_ to a certain _degree_
(sic) marks the extreme _point_ (sic) reached by Dürer in his unbiased
study of the nude. His further progress became more and more influenced
by his researches into the proportions of the human body." The bias will
appear to us of rather more recent date, and we shall be ready to
consider with an open mind how far Dürer's practice was influenced for
good or evil by his researches into the proportions of the human body.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 80: See page 258.]

[Footnote 81: See page 260.]

[Footnote 82: See Frontispiece.]

[Footnote 83: See page 19.]

CHAPTER V

DÜRER'S WOODCUTS

It is now generally accepted that Dürer did not himself engrave on wood.
In his earliest blocks he shows a greater respect for the limitations of
this means of expression than later on. The earliest wood blocks, though
no doubt they aimed at being facsimiles, were not such in fact; but the
engraver took certain liberties for his own convenience, and probably
did not attempt to render what Dürer calls "the hand" of the designer.
"The hand" was equivalent to what modern artists call "the touch," and
meant the peculiar character recognisable in the vast majority of the
strokes or marks which each artist uses in drawing or painting. Dürer
affected extremely curved and rapid strokes, Mantegna the deliberate
straight line, Rembrandt the straight stroke used so as to seem a
continual improvisation; though indeed he varies the character of his
touch more continually and more vastly than any other master, yet in his
drawings and etchings the majority of the strokes are straight. Already
in the woodcuts provided by Michael Wolgemut, Dürer's master, to
illustrate books, there is a general attempt to render cross hatching:
and the eyes and hair, though still those of an engraver, are
frequently modified to some extent in deference to the character given
by the draughtsman. Still, no one with practical experience would
consider these woodcuts as adequate facsimiles: which makes the question
of their attribution to Wolgemut, or his partner and step-son,
Pleydenwurff, of still less interest and importance than it is on all
other grounds. So conscious an exception as the soul of the accurate
Albert Dürer was, could not be expected to endure a partner in his
creations, especially one whose character was revealed chiefly by the
clumsy compromises convenient to lack of skill. Doubtless the demand for
"his hand" was a new factor in the education of the engraver, as
constant and as imperturbable as the action of a copious stream, which,
having its source in lonely heights, wears a channel through the hardest
rock, the most sullen soils. It may have been the pitiless tyranny of
the master's will for perfection which drove Hieronymus Andreae, "the
most famous of Dürer's wood engravers," into religious and even civil
rebellion, joining hands with levelling fanatics and taking active part
in the Peasant War. Dürer probably would have commanded too much
reverence and affection for these rebellions to be directed against him;
but an insupportably heavy yoke is not rendered lighter because it is
imposed by a loved hand,--though every other burden and restraint may in
such a case be shaken off and resented before that which is the real
cause of oppression. Dürer's wood cutters had no doubt to resign any
indolence, any impatience, or whatever else it might be that had
otherwise stamped a personal character on their work; and all
remonstrance must have been shamed by the evident fact that the young
master spared himself not a whit more. The perseverance and docility
which made such engraving possible was perhaps the greatest aid that
Dürer drew from German character; it was not only an aid, but an example
to and restraint upon that haughty spirit of his that restively ever
again vows never to take so much pains over another picture to be so
poorly paid (see page 103); that complains of failure and discouragement
after years of repeatedly more world-wide successes (see page 187).
These are not German traits, but it may have been the German blood he
inherited from his mother and the example of his friends,
fellow-workers, and helpers, which enabled him to get the better of such
petulant and gloomy outbursts, and return to the day of small things
with the will to continue and endure.

The difference introduced by the engravers becoming more and more
capable of rendering Dürer's hand is well illustrated by comparing the
frontispiece to the _Apocalypse_, added about 1511, with the other cuts
which had appeared in 1498. Doubtless Dürer's hand had changed its
character considerably during this period of constant and rapid
development, and it requires tact and knowledge to separate the
differences due to the creator from those due to the engraver. Dürer's
drawings differed as widely from the earlier drawings as does the
engraving from the earlier blocks. But, as we may see by early drawings
done as preliminary studies for engravings, the method of his pen
strokes had changed less than the character of the forms they rendered;
the conception of the design as a whole had advanced more rapidly than
the skill and sleight of hand which expressed it. The engraver has by
1511 become capable of expressing a greater variety of speed in the
stroke, makes it taper more finely, and can follow the tongue-like lap
and flicker as the pen rises and dips again before leaving the surface
of the block (as in the outer ends of the strokes that represent the
radiance of the Virgin's glory). Holbein, later on, was to obtain a yet
more wonderful fidelity from Lutzelburger, the engraver of his _Dunce
of Death_.

Still it were misleading to suppose that Dürer's disregard for the
facilities and limitations of wood-cutting went the lengths that the
demands made upon modern skill have gone. Not only has the line been
reproduced, but it has been drawn not with a full pen or brush, but in
pencil or with watered ink; and the delicate tones thus produced have
been demanded of and rendered by human skill. Dürer always uses a clear
definite stroke; and in thus limiting himself he shows an appreciation
of the medium to be used in reproducing his drawing, and recognises its
limits to a large extent, though this is the only limitation he accepts.
Less and less does he consider the possibilities which engraving offers
for the use of a white line on black Doing his drawing with a black
line, he contents himself with the qualities that the resources and
facilities of the full pen line give: and his design is for a drawing
which can be cut on wood, not for something that first really exists in
the print; the prints are copies of his drawings. His drawings were not
prepared to receive additions in the course of cutting, such as could
only be rendered by the engraver. Faithfulness was the only virtue he
required of Hieronymus Andreae. Yet even in such drawings as Dürer's no
doubt were, there would have been some qualities, some defects perhaps,
that the print does not possess. For a print, from the mode of inking,
has a breadth and unity which the drawing never can have. Even in
drawings made with full flowing brush or pen, there will be
modulations in the strength of the ink, or occasioned by the surface of
the wood or paper, in every stroke, by which the, sensitive artist in
the heat of work cannot help being influenced, and which will lead him
to give a bloom, a delicacy, to his drawing, such as a print can never
possess. And, on the other hand, the unity of the print can never be
quite realised in the drawing, however much the artist may strive to
attain it, because the conditions must change, however slightly, for
strokes produced in succession; while in a print all are produced
together, and variations, if variations there are, occur over wide
spaces and not between stroke and stroke. It is considerations, of this
kind that in the last resort determine the quality of works of art. The
artist is taught, though often unconsciously, by the means he employs,
but the diligent man who is not by nature an artist never can learn
these things: he can Imitate the manner and form, never the grace, the
bloom, and the life.

[Illustration: THE APOCALYPSE, 1498 St. Michael fighting the Dragon,
Woodcut, B. 72 From the impression in the British Museum Face p. 262]

II

Dürer's first important issue of woodcuts was the _Apocalypse_. A great
deal has been written in praise of this production as a political
pamphlet against the corrupt Papacy. It was undoubtedly the most
important series of woodcuts that had ever appeared, by the size, number
and elaboration of the designs. It also undoubtedly attacks
ecclesiastical corruption, but not ecclesiastical only. Whether to Dürer
and his friends it appeared even chiefly directed against prelates, or
even against those who sat in high places; whether the popes, bishops
and figures typical of the Church seemed to him to illustrate the moral
in any pre-eminent degree, may be doubted. Still more doubtful is it
whether there was any objection to papacy or priesthood as institutions
connected with these figures in his mind. Unworthy popes, unworthy
bishops, and an unworthy Rome were censured: but not popes, bishops, or
Rome as the capital see of the Church. Dürer's work as a whole shows no
distaste for saints, the Virgin, or bishops and popes; he had no
objection, no scruple apparently, to introducing the notorious Julius
II. into his _Feast of the_ Rosary, some ten years later. There has
perhaps been a tendency to read the intention of these designs too much
in the light of after events: and by so doing a great slur is cast on
Dürer's consistency; for, had these designs the significance read into
them, he must be supposed an altogether convinced enemy of the Church;
and the tremendous salaams which he afterwards made to her in far more
important works ought, to logical minds, to appear horribly insincere.

Viewed as works of art, one reads about the cut of the four riders upon
horses, "For simple grandeur this justly famous design has never been
surpassed." One's sense of proportion receives such a shock as gives one
the sensation of being utterly outcast, in a world where such a precious
dictum can pass without remark as a sample of the discrimination of the
chief authority on the life and art of Albert Dürer. Neither simple nor
grand is an adjective applicable to this print in the sense in which we
apply it to the chief masterpieces of antiquity and of the Renaissance.
To say even that Dürer never surpassed this design is to utter what to
me at least seems the most palpable absurdity. There is an immense
advance in design, in conception and in mastery of every kind shown over
the best prints of the _Apocalypse_ and _Great Passion_, in the
prints added to the latter series ten years later, and still more in the
_Life of the Virgin_. And still finer results are arrived at in single
cuts of later date, and in the _Little Passion_. If we want to see what
Dürer's woodcuts at their finest are for breadth and dignity of
composition, for richness and fertility of arabesque and black and white
pattern, for vigour and subtlety of form, for boldness and vivacity of
workmanship, we must turn to the _Samson_ (1497?) (B. 2), the Man's
_Bath_ (14-?), (B. 128), among the earlier blocks published before the
_Apocalypse_, then to those designed in or about the year 1511. The
golden period for Dürer's woodcuts, the date of the publication of his
most magnificent series, the _Life of the Virgin_ and several delightful
separate prints. Among these we find it hard to choose, but if some must
be mentioned let it be the _St. Joachim's Offering Rejected by the High
Priest_ (B. 77), the _Meeting at the Golden Gate_ (B. 79) (see
illustration), the _Marriage of the Virgin_ (B. 82), the _Visitation_
(B. 84), the _Nativity_ (B. 85) (see illustration), the _Presentation_
(B. _55_), the _Flight into Egypt_ (B. 89).

[Illustration: Detail enlarged from "Nativity."--"Life of the Virgin"
Woodcut, B. 85]

[Illustration: Enlarged detail from "The Embrace of St. Joachim and St.
Anne at the Golden Gate."--"Life of the Virgin," Woodcut, B. 79]

In the glorious masterpieces of this series Dürer has found the true
balance of his powers. The dignity and charm of the decorative effect of
these cuts has never been surpassed; and to the racy narrative vivacity
of such groups and figures as those isolated and enlarged in our
illustration there is added an idyllic charm of which perhaps the best
examples are the _Visitation_ and the _Flight into Egypt_. This
sweetness of allure is still more pervasive in the separate cuts that
bear this golden date, 1511, that is in the _St. Christopher_ (B. 103),
and the _St. Jerome_ (B. 114). And the _Adoration of the Magi_ (B. 3) is
much finer than the one included in the _Life of the Virgin_. This
idyllic charm had already been touched _upon before_ in the _Assumption
of the Magdalen_ (B. 121) (15?), and in the _St. Antony_ and _St. Paul_
and the _Baptist_ and _St. Onuphrius of_ 1504. It is not felt to lie
very deep in the conception of the subject, for all are treated in an
obviously conventional manner, the touches of racy realism being
confined to subordinate incidents and details. Neither the subjects nor
the mood of the artist lend themselves to the dramatic impressiveness of
such cuts as the _Blowing of the Sixth Trumpet_ or the _St. Michael
overwhelming the Dragon of the Apocalypse_ (_see_ page 262), where the
inspiration appears to be Gothic, perhaps developed under the influence
of Mantegna's _Combat between Sea Monsters_, of which Dürer early made
an elaborate pen-and-ink copy. We find an aftermath of the same
inspiration in the engraving on iron, dated 1516, representing a man
riding astride of an unicorn carrying off a shrieking woman. Such stormy
and strenuous lowerings of the imagination break in upon Dürer's
habitual mood as St. Peter's thunders into Milton's "Lycidas," of which
the general felicitous mingling of a conventional pedantry with idyllic
charm and racy touches of realistic effect is very similar to the
general effect of the golden group we have been describing. Among all
the work that finds its climax in the beautiful creations of 1511, only
in a few prints of the _Little Passion_, published in 1511, do we find
any dramatic power or creativeness of essential conception. I may
mention the _Christ Scourging the Money-changers in the Temple_, the
_Agony in the Garden_, and Judas' _Kiss_, where, though the general
effect be rather confused, the central figure is full of appropriate
power. _Christ haled by the hair before_ _Annas_ (the most wonderful
of all), Christ before _Pilate_, Christ _Mocked_, the _Ecce Homo_ (a
most beautiful composition), the Veronica's napkin incident, _Christ_
being nailed _to the Cross_ (a masterpiece), the _Deposition_, the
_Entombment_:--several others of the series have idyllic charm or
touches of narrative force which link them with the general group, but
these alone stand out and in some ways surpass it. After this date Dürer
seems in a great measure to have relinquished wood for metal engraving;
however, most of his occasional resumptions of the process were marked
by the production of masterpieces, if we put on one side the workshop
monsters produced for Maximilian--and even in these, in details, Dürer's
full force is recognisable. I may mention the _Madonna_ crowned and
_worshipped by a concert of Angels_, 1518 (B. 101), which, though a
little cold, like all the work of that period, is still a masterpiece;
and then, after the inspiriting visit to Antwerp, we have the
magnificent portrait of Ulrich Varnbüler, 1522 (B. 155), the _Last
Supper_, 1523 (B. 53) (see illustration here), and the glorious piece of
decoration representing Dürer's Arms, 1523 (B. 160) (see illustration).
I have reproduced less of Dürer's wood engravings than would be
necessary to represent their importance and beauty, because most, being
large and bold, are greatly impoverished by reduction; besides, they are
nearly all well known through comparatively cheap reproductions. I have
enlarged two details to give an idea of Dürer's workmanship when
employed upon racy realism (see illustration, page 264), and when
employed in endowing a single figure with supreme grace and dignity (see
illustration, page 265).

[Illustration: Christ haled before Annas From the "Little
Passion"--_Between_ pp. 266 & 267]

[Illustration: DÜRER'S ARMORIAL BEARINGS Woodcut, B. 160]

CHAPTER VI

DÜRER'S INFLUENCES AND VERSES

I

Before closing this part of my book something must be said of Dürer's
influence on other artists. It is one of the foibles of modern criticism
to please itself by tracing influences, a process of the same nature as
that of tracing resemblances to ferns and other growths on a frosted
pane. No one would deny that resemblances are there; it is to
distinguish them and estimate their significance without yielding to
fancifulness, which is the well-nigh hopeless task. It is often
forgotten that similar circumstances produce similar effects, and that
coincidences from this cause are very rife. Then, too, it is forgotten
that the influence that produces rivalry is stronger, more important,
and less easily estimated, than that which is expressed by imitation or
plagiarism; besides, it affects more original and fertile natures. The
stimulus of a great creative personality often is more potent where
discernible resemblances are few and vague, than where they are many and
obvious. In Dürer's day the study and imitation of antique art which had

Book of the day: