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Saturday, June 8, 2013

'Praying Hands' closes Sunday at the National Gallery of Art

Albrecht Durer, The Men's Bath, 1496/1497, Albertina, Vienna

Another stunning exhibition which includes one of the world's most famous drawings, Praying Hands, comes to a close this weekend at the National Gallery of Art.

Albrecht Durer, Praying Hands, 1508, Albertina, Vienna

The single U.S. venue for Albrecht Durer: Master Drawings, Watercolors, and Prints from the Albertina, is the only time many of Durer's masterpieces have hung together.

By extraordinary arrangement and collaboration with the Albertina in Vienna, the repository of some of the artist's greatest masterpieces, the National Gallery has brought together the show which seems much larger than the 118 works spread over six galleries. On Friday afternoon the first galleries were packed, but strangely enough, Praying Hands had no spectators lined up when I was there, luckily for me, but the crowd thinned as the exhibition, arranged in chronological order, progressed.

(One way to see a crowded display is to advance to the works without viewers, enabling you to devour contents without being pushed or elbowed. You may not be able to see every work up close, depending upon your schedule, but some are better than none, and Durer's particularly are well worth close inspection with their detail and meticulous devotion to reality and perceived reality. They will leave you wondering how time permitted the artist to achieve all the fine line drawings in a little more than four decades, beginning with his self-portrait at age 13, which is found in the first gallery.)

Albrecht Durer, Nemesis (The Great Fortune), 1501-1502, Albertina, Vienna.  Nemesis was the Greek goddess of fortune and fate.  As she circles the globe, she carries a goblet for fortune and a bridle for fate.

The National Gallery's Andrew Robison, the Gallery's senior curator of prints and drawings, and the Gallery's staff spent ten years bringing the presentation to fruition which includes some of the Gallery's own engravings, woodcuts, drawings, and prints.

The Albertina's Durer collection starts with the Holy Roman Empire and Rudolf II whose favorite artist was Durer (1471-1528) born in Nuremberg and generally considered one of the four greatest Renaissance artists. (Can you name the others?*)

With pen, ink, brush, and chalk, he drew religious scenes, including the Last Supper, the Death of the Virgin, Adam and Eve, and other subjects such as the human body, nature, animals, and he depicted allegorical themes.
Albrecht Durer, The Death of the Virgin, 1510, Albertina, Vienna.  The apostles gather around Mary's deathbed, and John helps her hold a candle while Peter sprinkles her with holy water.

The year his mother died (1514) found Durer composing Melencolia I (found in the fifth gallery) which the label calls "perhaps his most original, complex, and puzzling image." Many objects fill the scene: a hammer, tools, an hourglass, a bat carrying a sign, a sad woman, maybe a self-portrait, a fallen angel with wings, resting at the end of life's journey, while she (or he) ponders what she may have missed on her passage. The sun sets or is that heaven with a shining star beckoning? Sitting nearby and hard at work on a tablet is a little boy whose head sits below judicial scales.
Albrecht Durer, Melencholia I, 1514, Albertina, Vienna. 

In the watercolor, The Great Piece of Turf (1503) in the third gallery, the viewer has the perspective of a dragonfly buzzing at a pond, amidst fine ferns and the natural environment.

A 300+ paged color catalogue, co-edited by Mr. Robison and Klaus Albrecht Schroder, director of the Albertina, is available.

The people of the United States are grateful to the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, the Melvin R. Seiden Memorial Fund, the National Gallery's Exhibition Circle, and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany for making the presentation possible.

*Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci are the others.

What: Albrecht Durer: Master Drawings, Watercolors, and Prints from the Albertina

When: Now through Sunday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Where: the East Building Mezzanine, the National Gallery of Art, between Third and Fourth at Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.

Admission:  No charge

Metro stations: Smithsonian, L'Enfant Plaza, Archives-Navy Memorial, Judiciary Square

For more information: 202-737-4215

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