Last week, fellow blogger Garrulous Gwendoline, posted a delightful piece about her visit to Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia. She illustrated her account with some charming animal photos. Along with some appealing pictures of that special Aussie bundle of fur, the koala, there was a striking photo of a rhinoceros. As soon as I saw the photograph I was immediately reminded of the popular woodcut made by Dürer 500 years ago.
Art Historians are fascinated by Dürer for many different reasons and one of them is this woodcut. He constructed his image of a rhino not from his own direct visual encounter, but from secondhand reports sent to him in Germany. The first living rhinoceros to be seen in Europe for over 1000 years was a gift sent from India and had arrived in Lisbon in 1515 amid much interest and curiosity. I think we can say it was an opportunity not to be missed and Dürer set to work and produced his high quality prints. A woodcut and drawing of Dürer’s rhino is held by the British Museum.
Apart from offering to his public his contemporary theory of art and reinvigorating the medium of print, Dürer also left us a short series of self portraits as a visual record of his ideas and confident imagination. This is one of my favourite self portraits as he presents us with a dramatic, intense, almost 21st-century celebrity style version of self. There is much art historical discussion about his choice to portray himself in such a Christ-like manner, but I think the general consensus is that he is idealising and promoting the role of the artist as opposed to himself. Well, he certainly makes himself look attractive and appealing in a very human way. One day I hope to travel to Germany to see the original hanging in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, but for now here it is.
“Thus I, Albrecht Dürer from Nuremberg, portrayed myself with characteristic colours in my 28th year.” Translation of the Latin inscription.