Albrecht Dürer at the Chester Beatty Library
10 November 2005 to 16 April 2006
Among the great treasures collected by Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968) and bequeathed to the Irish Nation is a collection of over 130 woodcuts and engravings by the great German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Partially exhibited over the years, the Dürer collection was last seen in its entirety 20 years ago, the CBL has now the opportunity of taking this collection out of storage and presenting it afresh in its award winning galleries. But thanks to its new location and enhanced facilities at Dublin Castle, the Library can now borrow masterpieces from other leading European museums. The star attraction in this exhibition is undoubtedly Dürer’s famous watercolour of a group of Irish Soldiers, drawn by the artist while on his visit to Antwerp in 1521. This image has been seen if not actually studied by generations of Irish school children as it has featured in most text books on the Tudor history of Ireland. It is a unique depiction in the history of art for its impartial portrayal of the Irish at this time.
The Dürer holdings of the Chester Beatty Library include works from almost every year of the artist’s career with just one or two notable exceptions. The exhibition, divided into manageable sections, concentrates on different themes within each area. The first section naturally introduces the visitor to Dürer’s work through the illustrated books that the he worked on while he was still an apprentice or journeyman. These are shown beside Dürer’s earliest prints which follow the dominant Gothic themes of the period. The incredible skill of Dürer as a draughtsman, illustrator and book designer are brought together in his woodcut Apocalypse, seen here in all its 16 sheet glory. Intended as an illustrated book but now mostly seen as single sheets in galleries and auction rooms, this set is truly a magnificent work of art, which had to be assembled by Beatty from different sources. The power of these images must have left people awe struck when they were first published in 1498.
Nearly all of Dürer’s prints inspired by his trips to Italy are in this exhibition and many show the artist’s constant struggle to perfect his drawing of the human body. This culminated with his print of Adam and Eve (1504) and in his posthumous treatise, The Four Books on Human Proportion (1532). One of Dürer’s preliminary drawings for this publication, a pen and ink study of a Proportional Figure of a Standing Man (1513)has been lent from the great collection of the Kunsthalle Bremen which has also generously lent a pen and ink self portrait of the artist executed when he was suffering from an internal ailment.