If I hear or think the word ‘commoditization’ when it comes to art, I get a bit uncomfortable. Yet which Renaissance artist was the first to do exactly that? Albrecht Dürer, 1471-1528. He was the Andy Warhol of his times and I just came up from a deep dive into Dürer’s practices as well as his skills at making the most of his images.
What got me thinking first about it was a podcast that I enjoy: BBC’s Arts and Ideas. They go in depth into wiley geeking out about art and artists and I love to listen as I work in the studio.
This particular episode https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001212c is a discussion with Philip Hoare, author of a new book, Albert and the Whale, as well as curator Robert Wenley and historian Helen Cowie, as exhibitions of Dürer open at the National Gallery in London and the Barber Institute in Birmingham.
Here’s a man who not only was the first to sign his work with a monogram
but also was a devoted wood engraver who published editions of his engravings so as to make them more affordable as well as market his outstanding skills as a draftsman.
Born in Nuremberg in 1471, his father was a Hungarian refugee and goldsmith. As a young man, Dürer traveled to Italy, and developed his skills as a printmaker and draftsman. His woodcut engravings such as the 1498 Apolcalypse
were meant to promulgate his art with dealers all over Europe, making him one of the first ‘mass production artists’. “Laura Cumming, the London Observer’s art critic says he was the first international artist.” (Philip Hoare) He realized that it was much more cost effective to create a series of woodcuts (wood engravings) than spend a year painting a portrait of some ‘pompous merchant’ so his art became ‘modern’ due to its distribution. (Hoare) He is also known for painting a number of self-promotional self-portraits glorifying his dress as a courtier just back from Italy, and finally an image of himself as Christ, with his curling hair that forms an A and his hands held in the form of a D; he becomes THE monogram. No one until Warhol created himself as a work of art in that manner. (Philip Hoare)
Here’s a bit of video about this same subject from the National Gallery, US:
I’ve always chafed at Dürer’s ballsy swagger (oops, sorry!) but you have to admit, he set the bar high as well as did his share of struggling to survive. He lived to only 57. Another interesting detail you’ll find discussed in the podcast is that Hitler actually took it upon himself to appropriate the images of Durer as examples of Arian superiority during Hitler’s reign as bloody dictator, without seeming to know that Dürer was a Hungarian refugee’s son and a Jew.
And so I submit that my limited editions and small runs pay my grocery bills and even keep me in supplies as I follow the lead of a great master. I’m okay with that.
Check out the new layout for my website with a bigger emphasis on my 'one of a kind' pieces that I love to create, and stay in touch. Happy New Year to all of you dear people!