Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dürer at the MFA, Boston

Armed with my new membership card to the MFA here in Boston, I headed over to the museum yesterday to see a couple of things I found on their website. I’m determined to get my $100 worth out of it, and at this rate, I’ll have accomplished my goal by March! My strategy is to keep things fresh by only staying for an hour or two and to hit up a couple different exhibits each time rather than trying to digest the entire museum in one day. They have such a huge collection that I would feel overwhelmed if I tried to see it all in one trip. So far, my series of short visits have left me craving more. Success!

Yesterday afternoon intended to see two exhibits: Shinto art and Albrecht Dürer prints. I wandered around the Asian art galleries for a little while, but was unable to find the Shinto exhibit, but no great loss. I’ll see it next time. The MFA is a maze that I am happy to get lost in on these excursions. There are so many great things to see as you meander, that it wasn’t a big deal for me not to find what I was looking for.

The Dürer print exhibit, which I did manage to find, was fantastic. I found the compositions to be amazingly expressive considering the limited nature of a black and white block print. Dürer renders an incredible amount of depth and texture using exaggerated perspective and with a sensitive feel for shadow and light. The detail work of his carving, for which he is best known, is of course stunning. If you look closely enough at the prints, there are little surprises in each – things like little houses in the distance complete with windows and chimneys, or a knot in a tree that is actually a gnarled skeleton. Those little details draw you in and I enjoyed making up little narratives in my head to go with each print.

I was quite taken with an illuminated example of one of Dürer’s prints not only because of its beauty but also because of what I learned about German social structure during the time period. I was surprised that in the guild culture of Germany that print-makers such as Dürer often passed on the actual work of carving to artisans usually just drawing directly on the wood that would become a block. There were also separate folks who colored or illuminated them. It is suspected, however, that Dürer did his own carving however being trained in that craft which is one of the things that makes his work so unique. Below is the black and white version and the illuminated version.

The guild culture is something I remember learning about at the Bread Museum we went to in Germany this past summer, but I had no idea that labor had developed on such a specialized level as it had at that point. What a fascinating learning experience, not to mention the gorgeous works that I was lucky enough to see all in one place! I feel like the MFA must have a relatively vast collection of these prints to be able to show so many high quality examples in one exhibit.

After the Dürer I still had a bit more time to kill before heading to work and having seen “The Secrets of Tomb 10-A” on my last visit to the MFA, I decided to wander over to the antiquities wing. I kicked myself for not really spending much time there on previous visits once I began to look around. One could easily spend a day just looking at the Egyptian galleries, so I decided to save those for later when I could immerse myself in the amazing collection of artifacts. I did however make a quick run through the Greek and Etruscan art, which I will eventually make another afternoon out of. I especially enjoyed the beautiful marble statuary on display and will plan another day devoted just to that wing. There was also a small exhibit of Italian Renaissance carvings and ceramic work that I breezed through on my way to the antiquities. The Donatello work inspired me with its tender feel and soft lines. It's pictured at the top of this entry.

The great thing about my visits to the MFA are that each time I go, I find more that I want to see. I’m pretty excited about my membership and if you love art, I would recommend you join your local museum as well. It’s a wonderful and humbling feeling to connect with the works of past and present artists. I learn a little something new each time and it inspires me to hone my own artistry as a musician. I’m looking forward to my next trip and the new works that I’m bound to discover.

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