The Institute has recently acquired a group of forty-six prints from the collection formed by Franklin Crosby, Jr. before his death some years ago. Forty of these constitute the important but relatively little-known set of small woodcuts entitled The Fall and Redemption of Man
which was produced by Albrecht Altdorfer about 1515 and all represent examples missing until now in the Institute's print collection. The group thus offers the opportunity of becoming further acquainted with the work of printmakers who are already familiar to members. With the exception of two etchings by the Frenchman Callot, the prints are the work of German artists.Dürer, who served as a link between the Gothic and Renaissance periods in Germany, is represented by a superb impression of the Three Peasants
and by the Small War Horse.
The latter presents, in a vaulted stable open to the sky, the profile figure of an unbridled, unsaddled horse accompanied by a warrior whose figure is almost obscured by the horse. Enough is visible, however, to display Dürer's interest in detail and the actual look of things: the leg armor, the winged sandals, and the fantastic helmet representing a butterfly. All is meticulously and marvelously noted, giving the observer the impression that he is actually seeing what the artist saw. Dürer was a literal man, intellectually aware, preoccupied with proportion and perspective, with the outward character of things, and with problems of technique. His great skill as a draughtsman and his technical excellence as an engraver are brilliantly displayed in the two prints just acquired by the museum. Observers will not be emotionally stirred by them but they cannot fail to admire the flawless means with which Dürer achieved the effect he wished to achieve. Dürer was a formal man compared with most of his contemporaries, and there is always in his work a certain chasteness stemming from a character which, however many-faceted, is almost never endearing.Altdorfer, whose woodcuts of The Fall and Redemption of Man
come next in point of time in this group, was quite another person. He, too, was many-faceted: painter, etcher, engraver, town architect, a member of the Town Council of Ratisbon, the owner of several houses, and, at this death, the possessor of much plate, a few books, jewelry, and a well-stocked wine cellar. It will be seen, therefore, that he was a popular man with his townspeople, a respected figure, and one who tried his hand a many things, even as Dürer. But his work shows him to have been a warmer, kindlier, more homely character, and one who was deeply impressed by the drama and emotion of life. He could not match Dürer as a draughtsman, although many place him next to his great predecessor in this field, but he possessed an originality of conception for more marked. He was more interested in the heart of things than many of his contemporaries and thus displays, in most of his work, a pulsing awareness of the mystery of man and nature.His absorption with humanity, with movement, and with light and shade is brilliantly demonstrated in the set of small woodcuts—they measure only three by about two inches—now in the Institute's collection. Comparing them with Dürer's Little Passion,
which may have suggested Altdorfer's set, one will see that the latter artist gave to his work a warm, endearing quality that is lacking in Dürer's. Sometimes, as in The Angel Appearing to Joachim,
Altdorfer is so full of the wonder of his subject that his composition becomes slightly absurd. Yet with all its absurdity, its tumbling angel and the ragged Joachim, it is strangely moving. Moving too, because of the drama with which Altdorfer has invested scenes basically simple in composition but of portentous importance in feeling, are The Presentation in the Temple, The Visitation,
and The Last Supper.
In them the artist's interest in architecture, his solution of problems of perspective, his original treatment of light and shade—he was perhaps the first to mass shadows by almost obscuring line—and his delight in nature, are well illustrated. In another cut, The Elevation of the Cross,
the application of practical methods he had learned from workmen illustrates the manner in which everyday things can, in an original mind, invest great events with heightened intensity. This is best understood by observing the preceding cut of the scene in which Christ is nailed to the Cross. Instead of doing the terrible thing the hard way, Altdorfer's soldiers perform their dreadful deed while the Cross is flat on the ground, going about their business with a competence that is chilling to the blood. Thereafter, under the matter-of-fact orders of the Captain, they run up the Cross on their pikes, efficiently and with no more emotion than they would display in performing any daily task.Apart from its simple, human character, this set is notable for several things: the quality of movement, an interest in nature for itself, the transition from purely linear design to massed effects which in Altdorfer's hands become a masterly treatment of light and dark, and the opening up of landscape vistas. It is a set that will capture the eye of the observer and hold his interest until he has explored every avenue opened to him by the artist.Hans Sebald Beham, who is, with Altdorfer, Pencz, and others, known as one of the Little Masters because of the small size of their prints, is represented in the new group by the engraving of Good Fortune
and its pendant, Bad Fortune.
Both are of great delicacy, possessing the aesthetic and technical perfection characteristic of this group of artists. Hans Sebald Lautensack who, with Hirschvogel, carried on the tradition of pure landscape first notably evinced by Altdorfer, displays in his etching of A Village
the delight in nature which was to become so marked in the art of northern Europe in years to come. His development was toward the sketch in which simple lines, frequently outlines, suggest form. Although his landscapes are frequently more detailed than those of Hirschvogel, his style is fundamentally that of transferring his pen drawings to metal, a felicitous one for the medium of etching.The final prints in the present group are by Jacques Callot, whose lively etchings of great multitudes are among the tours de force
of the medium. The two from the Crosby Collection represent one of his finest town views-the Petit Vue de Paris
with Pont-Neuf-and one of the greatest of all his etchings, Les Supplices.
In them may be seen the qualities that characterize almost all of Callot's work: great crowds made up of innumerable small figures which attain their proper perspective through the trick of placing several large figures in the foreground, animated movement, the gently satiric observation of mankind and its activities, and a great zest for what is going on in the world. Both are marked by the sort of impersonal curiosity displayed by Callot under all circumstances, and so take on a conviction that would have been missing in a more heavy-handed observation.The prints in this group have been placed on view in the corridor adjoining the Print Gallery. Members will find them an interesting extension of the existing collection and in some instances of great charm.Referenced Works of Art
- The Small War horse. Albrecht Dürer
German, 1471-1528. Dunwoody Fund
- The Presentation in the Temple and The Visitation. Two woodcuts from Albrecht Altdorfer's set of the Fall and Redemption of Man
- The Last Supper and The Elevation of the Cross. Woodcuts from a set of forty by Albrecht Altdorfer, German, 1480-1538
- Landscape with Village and Stream. Etching done in 1553 by Hans Sebald Lautensack, German, XVI century. Dunwoody Fund
- View of Paris with the Pont-Neuf in the Background. An etching of 1629 by Jacques Callot, French, 1592-1635