Finding Dürer’s Perspective

In the early 16th century Nuremberg-born artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) changed the landscape of his artistic practise – literally. Taking his cue from Leon Battista Alberti (1404 –1472) and Piero della Francesca (1415–1492), Dürer began to introduce the ‘secret art of perspective’ into his works.[1]  He used measurement and geometry to produce images that created the illusion of depth in a flat pictorial-plane. Over five hundred years later, the University of Melbourne’s Print Collection set out to celebrate Dürer’s cross-disciplinary approach to art and mathematics with the Dürer Drawing Day!

In the beginning of his artistic career, Dürer did not have the precise understanding of perspective that is associated with him today. Dürer struggled in his very early works to separate the different pictorial-planes accurately enough to create the illusion of depth. In The Prodigal Son Amid the Swine (1496) for example, a tree appears to sprout from the roof of a house in the background. The year 1510 is a turning point for Dürer’s artistic practise. After his travels around Bologna, he had gained and practised knowledge of the art of perspective sufficiently to apply it in his own drawings. The Large Cannon (1518) is an impressive example of Dürer’s mastering of the overlapping plane and ability to create the impression of depth in a two-dimensional landscape.

Unknown Copier after Albrecht Dürer, The Prodigal Son and the Swine, engraving

Dürer’s (not so concisely named) 1525 Painter’s Manual: A Manual of Measurement of Lines, Areas, and Solids by means of Compass and Ruler (Underweysung der Messung mit dem Zirckel und Richtscheyt) consolidated all the information about perspective that he had learnt in Italy.  The manual starts with an explanation of how to draw the most basic line. Each section of the book develops this line into more and more complex forms. These  forms, including spirals, columns, foreshortened squares, two and three-dimensional shapes, then form the artistic building blocks for drawing objects that appear to occupy ‘real’ space. The Manual was designed as a ‘step by step’ guide for aspiring art students, although Dürer concludes with a series of ‘cheats’ designed to create ‘easy’ perspective (perhaps for the lazy student).

Albrecht Dürer, Draftsman Drawing a Lute (The Manual of Measurement), woodcut, 1525

The Dürer Drawing Day took its inspiration from some of the final ‘cheat’ images in the Manual. Two 1525 woodcuts show contraptions designed by Dürer to (apparently) ‘easily’ draw accurate images of people and objects.  The second of these shows a draftsman drawing a lute. To paraphrase Dürer’s own description, a draftsman uses ‘a strong thread hammered into the wall to create the near point of sight and places a vertical frame parallel to the wall. Then ‘a lute or other object to your liking is placed on the opposite end of the table to the wall. The near point of sight is placed on parts of the lute and string attached with hot wax to the frame to mark where the near point of sight passes through the frame. The points that the crossed strings denote are then marked on ‘your drawing tablet creating an accurate dotted outline for the lute.[2] This complex description visually translates to the seemingly simple diagram shown in the woodcut.

Mastering an Old Master’s Technique

For the Drawing Day, this drawing device was recreated (complete with lute) to see whether Dürer’s ‘shortcut’ really worked. The experimental music collection at the Grainger Museum provided a back-drop for the Melbourne Print Collection’s attempt at an artistic experimentation of their own. With the exception of a few modern substitutes (masking tape instead of wax and Bluetac instead of a nail) a prototype Dürer drawing device was demonstrated to the assembled audience (including student artists) on the day.

Our modern reconstruction of Durer’s drawing apparatus

Theoretically, the device appeared to be a success. However, it was quickly discovered that the practical application was flawed. It required such meticulous positioning of the frame, object, paper and threads, that the slightest movement of any part of the device could undo the accuracy of the drawing. To create a perfect curve (as is required with a lute) was also incredibly time-consuming, as it required a lot of points to be marked in close proximity to each other – with each point requiring a minimum of two people to plot. A frustrated audience, who also struggled with Dürer’s shortcut, speculated whether the device was a literal drawing tool for Dürer or a visual representation of what a draftsman imagines when creating perspective or even a final joke on artists who did not take the time to read whole manual…

Alongside the drawing device, a number of Dürer’s prints (held at the Baillieu Library) were displayed for attendees of the Drawing Day to get up close to. The contrast between the complexity of the content of images (such as Melancholia, 1514), and the sparse and simplistic outlines produced by the drawing device was stark.  It was hard to imagine how the selection of dots and dashes on our page could ever evolve into a lute, let alone a detailed allegorical figure.

Selection of Durer prints from the Melbourne print collection

At the end of the Drawing Day the lute remained aloof and very difficult to draw. It seems most likely that alongside his understanding of geometry and his imaginative inventions, Dürer added a healthy dash of artistic talent to his works to make them masterpieces.

A masterpiece by one attendee of the Durer Drawing Day

With thanks to the Grainger Museum.

To learn more about the Baillieu’s Print Collection click here – http://library.unimelb.edu.au/collections/special-collections/print-collection

 

Katherine Reeve, recipient of the International Museums and Collections Award 2017

 

References 

[1] Walter L. Strauss, Introduction in Painter’s Manual: A Manual of Measurement of Lines, Areas, and Solids by means of Compass and Ruler (1525), (Abaris Books, New York; 1977), p.7.

[2] Albrecht Dürer, Painter’s Manual: A Manual of Measurement of Lines, Areas, and Solids by means of Compass and Ruler (1525), trans. Walter L. Strauss (Abaris Books, New York; 1977)


Parisian Past-Times: Chronologie Collée and the Leeds Album

As part of the Cultural Collections Projects Program, I have been given the opportunity to catalogue an album of 17th century French prints under the guidance of prints curator Kerrianne Stone. We know from a letter by Dr J. Orde Poynton that in the early 1970s a collection of nine albums comprising approximately 8,000 engraved portraits (with French, German and Italian origination) was purchased by the University of Melbourne from Dawson’s of Pall Mall, London. The Leeds Album may have been related to this purchase but without acquisition records available we cannot be certain. Although the exact provenance of the album has been difficult to determine, I have uncovered some interesting information in the process of cataloguing the prints.

Bound in embossed leather, the Leeds Album is an impressive collection of over 245 engraved 17th century portraits which have been pasted onto the pages of the album. The subjects of the portraits include a range of eminent European individuals – mostly French – from the late middle ages to early modern period including kings and queens, Holy Roman Emperors, notable members of the clergy, politicians, classical philosophers and a lone hermit. Contained in the album are the works of several prominent engravers, including Pierre Daret, Balthasar Moncornet, Louis Boissevin, and Pieter de Jode II. The portraits are stylistically diverse and demonstrate the different technical abilities and decorative styles that were applied by the individual engravers and by the artists whom the engravers copied. Many of the portraits in the album are accompanied by text printed in French and Latin. These texts usually describe the subject’s status, title and historical significance. The album is marked throughout with handwritten annotations, poetry and hand-coloured engravings, suggesting that the album was a highly utilised and valued object.

A bookplate bearing the Leeds coat of arms, and a portrait within the album, adorned with a personalised dedication to the Duke of Leeds, reveals that the album was formerly in the possession of Francis Osborne (1751-1799), British politician and the 5th Duke of Leeds. It is likely that he was given the album as a gift when he was appointed to the post of ambassador of England to France in 1783.[1.] Osborne declined the position, however, and subsequently served as foreign secretary under William Pitt’s administration instead. [2.] Osborne began auctioning off his collection of Italian, French, Flemish and Dutch art at Pall Mall, London, in 1796. [3.] The Leeds Album may have been included in this sale.

Sections of the album feature engravings taken from Chronologie Collée series. Chronologie Collée was a French printmaking phenomenon that involved a series of small portraits of influential figures, printed in tabular format, which could be cut down to individual portraits and pasted into an album. [4.] This technique was popular in France, and, from the 1620s, there were at least twenty series of portraits, as well as sheets of biographical text and decorative borders, stocked by various print sellers around Paris. [5.] The aim of the format is similar to that of contemporary card collecting or scrapbooking; an individual could collect complete sets, assemble their albums themselves and create volumes. The Leeds Album features engravings from at least three different Chronologie Collée series: Rulers and Dukes of Brabant, Foresters and the Counts of Flanders and the Portraits of the many illustrious men who have flourished in France. Many of the engravings in the album were not printed in a tabular format but as individual portrait prints; these have also been trimmed and pasted into the album in a manner that is consistent with the Chronologie Collée technique.

It is likely that the intended purpose of the album was to provide Osborne with a reference book of important figures in French history, in order to prepare him for his position as English ambassador to France. This suggests that Chronologie Collées had a didactic element, as well as providing a leisurely activity. Throughout the album there are sections of consecutive blank pages, which suggests that these sections may have been purposefully left blank for future additions. Whether Osborne assembled the album himself, and what his methodical approach was, is unknown, but the question presents an interesting avenue for further research.

Once the album has been accessioned it will be available online via the EMu (Electronic Museum) database for further research and engagement. The French Album offers a glimpse into collecting practices, and diplomatic relations, of 17th century France. The Chronologie Collée printmaking technique is an intriguing and under-researched format, and, as such, the French album is an exciting and illuminating source to be housed in the university’s cultural collections.

Rosalie Mickan, Catalogue Assistant

Notes

[1.]  Upon being offered the position of English ambassador to France, Osborne was gifted an album containing an exhaustive list of French knights and commandments and their coats of arms, it is likely that he was also gifted the Leeds album around this time. Sotheby’s, ‘Catalog of Knights, Commanders and Officers of the Order of the Holy Spirit,’ Auctions, Lot 38, 2009, Accessed 31 July 2017.

References

[2. ] David Wilkinson ‘Osborne, Francis, fifth duke of Leeds (1751–1799)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, online edn, Jan 2008, accessed 31 July 2017.

[3.] The Getty Research Institute, ‘Sale Catalog Br-A2164’, The Getty Provenance Index Database, ac-cessed 31 July 2017.

[4.] Royal Collection UK, ‘ Louys le Simple 21 Duc de Brabant. Charles le Gros 22 Duc de Bra-bant. Othon 23 Duc de Brabant… ’ Collections, accessed 31 July 2017.

[5.] Online Computer Library Center World Catalogue, ‘Chronologie Collée’, notes, accessed 31 Jul 2017.


From beauty to war: reproducing The Judgement of Paris

The Judgement of Paris (1510-20) is an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi (c. 1470-1482 – c. 1534) after a drawing by Raphael (1483–1520). It elicited many keen glances and enthusiastic comments from audiences when it was brought out for both public programs and classes at the Baillieu Library. It also proved to be a popular image during and after it was made in the 16th century; some scholars claim that it is the most famous engraving of the Renaissance. It was also sought out by collectors and the Print Collection holds three different copies of this one image.

When it emerges from the safety of its storage box, it is typically examined in the context of two key questions: what is it depicting, and what is its significance? One academic recently described it as the forerunner to the Trojan War: a startling contrast to its main subject of a beauty contest. Many of the great ancient world figures are gathered in this scene; the title role plays out at left where the Trojan Paris judges the beauty of the goddesses Athena (Minerva), Hera (Juno) and Aphrodite (Venus). Aphrodite emerges the winner because she offers the most desirable bribe, promising Paris the most beautiful mortal in the world, Helen of Troy, wife of Menelaos, King of Sparta. The union of Paris and Helen is the event which sets the Trojan War in motion. The figures at left are derived from a Hellenistic sarcophagus. [1.] The river gods depicted at right also strike a familiar chord in the canon of Western imagery, as Manet borrowed its composition for his painting Luncheon on the grass (1863).

Not only was the engraving a success for its composition and subjects, it also represents a change to the traditional role of printmaking. This print is classified as a reproductive print, or one that ‘copies’ another work of art, in this case a design by Raphael that has subsequently been lost. Before Marcantonio entered the printmaking arena, artists were often producing prints as original, albeit multiple works of art. The collaboration between Marcantonio and Raphael opened up a new dimension: the art of reproduction. They embarked upon the business of reproduction, and the repercussions of this intellectual property war are still at the front line of creative practices today.

 Raphael by Marcantonio Raimondi, (1517-20)

According to Giorgio Vasari, after seeing the prints of Albrecht Dürer, Raphael was inspired to set about his own printmaking venture. Raphael established a printmaking business with Marcantonio producing engravings after his paintings. Some, including The Judgement of Paris, were designed especially to be made into an engraving. Their enterprise gave rise to the long history of the reproductive print and the print selling trade. Marcantonio’s chief protégés were Marco Dente (Marco da Ravenna) and Agostino Musi (Agostino Veneziano) who also made reproductive prints, sometimes after their own master Marcantonio. When comparing impressions of The Judgement of Paris from the Baillieu’s Print Collection, subtle differences may be found. The darker impression has been identified as an early impression by Marcantonio, whereas the two lighter versions are careful later copies made by his student Marco Dente.[2] Images such as The Judgement of Paris convey a rich and complex lineage of production and reproduction.

 

The Judgement of Paris is on display in the Arts West lab during semester two.

 

 

Kerrianne Stone Curator, Prints

References

[1] Lisa Pon, Raphael, Dürer, and Marcantonio Raimondi : copying and the Italian Renaissance print, New Haven: Yale University Press, c2004, p. 1

[2] Susan Lambert, The image multiplied: five centuries of printed reproductions of paintings and drawings, London: Trefoil Publications, 1987, p. 65


Microtonal piano sounds: a 1930s audio recording and a unique score of Ivan Wyschnegradsky’s Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra in Rare Music

Percy Grainger’s interest in microtones—notes closer together than the semi- (or half-) tone that is standard in western “classical” music—is well known. In order to realise microtones, right through to imperceptibly “sliding” tones, Grainger was very “hands-on”. He designed and fabricated new instruments or modified existing ones that are part of the Grainger Museum’s collection here at the University. Grainger’s Butterfly piano (1952) illustrates the latter. He re-tuned and otherwise modified a very small, white “student piano”, manufactured by Wurlitzer in the late 1930s, so the notes were a sixth of a tone apart, not a half tone. Instead of a span of around 3½ octaves, his microtonally modified piano covered only a little more than one octave. After Grainger’s experiments, incidentally, the “butterfly” aspect of the piano—a patented winged lid, hinged down the middle—in itself a Wurlitzer innovation—was no longer in evidence.

Russian émigré composer, Ivan Wyschnegradsky (1893–1979) was also drawn to microtones and is represented by one work in the Rare Music collection. 1) This composition, Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra: symphonie en quarts de ton (Thus spoke Zarathustra: symphony in quarter tones), was inspired by a 4-paragraph sketch Nietzsche made in 1881 for his philosophical novel. 2)

In the version of Zarathoustra in Rare Music, the composer’s own arrangement for four pianos (1936), Wyschnegradsky employs an ingenious solution to creating microtones that doesn’t require anything of the composer more radical than engaging an obliging piano tuner. By tuning two of the pianos at concert pitch (originally diapason normal, A = 435 HZ) and the other two a quarter tone higher, microtonal sounds can be easily realised. Within the musical texture, each concert pitch-tuned piano is paired with a differently tuned piano, enabling the microtonality to be clearly audible both melodically and harmonically.

You can hear the full microtonal effect in this recording of the 3rd (slow) movement of the work. I am indebted to Peter Adamson (St Andrews, UK) for allowing me to make his digital transfer of 78 rpm Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre disc (OL 70; ca 1938) available here.

 

Rare Music, in the archive of Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre (a music press established by Australian, Louise Hanson-Dyer), holds the composer’s manuscript score and two sets of parts of this work plus six scores from the hire library, reproduced from a different manuscript (1938). 3) The two pages from the earlier manuscript score reproduced here correspond with the very start of the recording.

Wyschnegradsky took a circuitous route to arrive at this arrangement and these particular sounds. He relates that he began work on Zarathoustra in November 1918, sketching out the first bars of each of the four movements in quarter tones. With no means of ever making the large-scale microtonal work he had in mind audible, Wyschnegradsky spent much of the 1920s looking into how a piano (and other instruments) capable of playing microtonally could be designed and fabricated: an interesting intersection with Percy Grainger and the Butterfly piano. Wyschnegradsky met and worked with Czech composer, Alois Hába, who had similar pre-occupations. By 1929, Wyschnegradsky had his very own monumental quarter tone upright piano in Paris (see below) and he could return to composing Zarathoustra. 4)

Wyschnegradsky scored the work for what he later described as a “not very practical” ensemble of quarter-tone piano (6 hands); quarter-tone harmonium (4 hands); quarter-tone clarinet; a “traditional” string ensemble; and percussion, but he could see no prospect of securing a performance. It was not until 1936 that he re-wrote it for 4 pianos, recasting the 2nd and 4th movements, and Zarathoustra was premiered in this form at the Salle Chopin-Pleyel in Paris on 25 January 1937. The four pianists who played are the same as those on the recording: Monique Haas, Ina Marika, Edward Staempfli and Max Vredenburg, under the direction of the composer.

By making Zarathoustra available for hire through Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre, and commercially as a sound recording, Louise Hanson-Dyer demonstrated her unflinching support of 20th century music, particularly in the years before World War II. 5) Rare Music is proud to house the archive of a woman who, like Ivan Wyschnegradsky and Percy Grainger, made an exceptional contribution to the music of her time.

Jen Hill, Curator, Rare Music

1) There are many variant transliterations of Wyschnegradsky; this version is the one the composer used in his correspondence with Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre. Grove music online favours Vyschnegradsky or Vischnegradsky. For more information and a wealth of images (including the one of Wyschnegradsky with his quarter tone piano in 1935, above), see the comprehensive Association Ivan Wyschnegradsky website.

2) Much of the information here is taken from an undated typescript “Notice” by the composer (in French), housed with the scores in the Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre archive.

3) The manuscript score (part of EOLA MU094) is heavily annotated; intriguingly the score includes a legible part for percussion struck through with red pencil.

4) Wyschnegradsky’s piano was made by August Förster, a piano manufacturer in the Czech Republic.

5) For more information on Hanson-Dyer and Wyschnegradsky see Jim Davidson, Lyrebird Rising (Carlton, 1994) p. 317. Correspondence in the archive indicates that the first formal meeting between the two was in May 1938; British composer and pianist Alan Bush had suggested to Wyschnegradsky in 1937 that he get in touch.


Beaming a parable to European Renaissance art classes

Of the many classes utilising the Print Collection during semester one, European Renaissance Art receive the gold star for the most visits and for some very engaging interactions with the collection.

With a fly on the wall vantage onto the classes, it is intriguing to view one of the prints selected for their seminar topic: The Print Revolution, which was Daniel Hopfer’s Interior of the Church with the Parable of the Mote and the Beam (c.1520). Students commenced their study of the print with some close visual examination and this produced some confused expressions as well as some muffled laughter. For central to the image is a figure with plank of wood protruding out of his eye.

This is a very literal rendering of the proverbial saying of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew: ‘And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye’. This warning against judgment may not be in 21st century parlance but it is just one of the many insights offered by this etching.

Geographically this image is categorised as art of the Northern European Renaissance, rather than the more familiar Italian, and stylistically these works of art have different characteristics to Italian. Daniel Hopfer (1471 – 1536) as a trained armourer is perhaps best known for his contributions to adapt the metalworking process of etching on iron, to printmaking. The link to metalwork designing is most apparent in the intricate vault decoration in the print. Another innovation which can be seen developing through the image is perspective. The church, identified as St Catherine’s in Hopfer’s hometown of Augsburg, employs newly outlined mathematical principles in its execution of depth and scale.

Like many students of print culture, an essential method to appreciate prints such as Hopfer’s in context as they do, is to read them alongside Peter Parshall’s influential article: Imago contrafacta: Images and facts in the Northern Renaissance.


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