07 January 2022
Dürer's Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist
The British Library has loaned five manuscripts to Dürer's Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist, which is on display in the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery until 27 February 2022. The exhibition traces the travels across Europe of the German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), including his journeys to the Alps, Italy, Venice and the Netherlands, through his works and journals. The exhibition follows on from its successful opening at the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum in Aachen, Germany. For more about the manuscripts included in that venue, see our blogpost on Dürer in the Low Countries.
The curators Susan Foister and Peter Van den Brink explore various aspects of Dürer's art and interests, and elaborate on them in the accompanying publication. One aspect of this is Dürer's theories of proportion and perspective, and features one of his drawings of infants to illustrate this point (British Library, Add MS 5228).
Albrecht Dürer's proportion drawings of infants, before 1513: Add MS 5228, ff. 186v–187r
Other evidence comes from Dürer's own letters and his travel journal. Many of Dürer's letters from his travels survive, including those to his friend, the Nuremberg humanist Willibald Pirckheimer (1470–1530). One of the Library’s letters is included in this section of the exhibition (Harley MS 4935).
Dürer travelled to the Low Countries in 1520–21, where he made many drawings in different techniques, such as silverpoint and leadpoint, chalk and charcoal, ink applied with pen and brush, and watercolour. He kept a journal of his visit, which survives in two copies' at least one page of his original journal remains, with sketches of pieces of folded cloth with instructions on how to make a woman’s cloak (Add MS 5229).
A page from Dürer’s original diary of his Netherlandish journey in 1520: Add MS 5229, f.50r
Dürer’s interest in Martin Luther (1483–1546) is also documented in his journals. Dürer owned a number of Lutheran tracts, as well as recording a list of Luther’s works, which dates from around 1520 (Add MS 5231).
List of works by Martin Luther: Add MS 5231, f.115r
On his travels Dürer met several other artists, including Gerard Horenbout (1465–1541) and Horenbout’s daughter Susanna. Dürer and Horenbout met in Antwerp in May 1521, shortly before Horenbout moved to England to the court of Henry VIII (r. 1509–1547). Two leaves from the Sforza Hours painted by Horenbout around this time are featured in the exhibition: the Virgin and Child and the Virgin as Queen of Heaven.
Image of the Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven, by Gerard Horenbout, from the Sforza Hours: Add MS 34294, volume 2, f. 133v
The Sforza Hours is a complicated manuscript, first made for the Duchess of Milan, Bona Sforza, who died in 1503. The miniatures made for Bona were painted by the Milanese court painter and miniaturist Giovan Pietro Birago (active 1471–1513). On her death, her nephew Philibert II, Duke of Savoy (1497–1504), and subsequently his widow, Margaret of Austria (d. 1530), inherited the book. Margaret served as regent of the Netherlands on behalf of her nephew, the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (r. 1519–1556), and at this point Horenbout added 16 full-page illustrations of the life of the Virgin, including the two images featured in the exhibition.
Image of the Virgin Mary and Child, by Gerard Horenbout, from the Sforza Hours, Add MS 34294, volume 3, f. 177v
We hope you enjoy the opportunity to see these fascinating documentary and artistic manuscripts at the National Gallery, together with the many other loans and paintings on display there.
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