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How seven candlesticks beat four horsemen.

By MARY ELIZABETH PODLES [Touchstone] — What is it that makes Dürer’s image so compelling? Partly it is his mastery of the woodcut medium, even though it is at best an intractable one. In order to lock into the press and print with typeface, each line in the woodcut must be raised in relief. That is, all of the area that prints as white must be cut away by the artisan’s knife, leaving behind narrow raised ridges that hold the ink and print as black lines.

Durer: Seven Golden CandlesticksIn the early days of printing, most woodcuts were no more skillfully done than Koberger’s. But Dürer, who trained with his father as a goldsmith and only later turned to art, transformed the language of the medium and made a new range of effects possible. Dürer drew with a broad-nibbed pen directly on the pearwood block, and, at the beginning, he was probably the only one skilled enough to cut his own designs.

By the time Dürer composed and cut the Vision of the Seven Candlesticks, he had gained full mastery of the woodcut line and its possibilities. He was able to make exact renderings and multiple copies of his autograph drawings: we, in the age of the Xerox machine, fail to realize the revolutionary impact of the early print media. From Dürer onward, printing would never be the same.

We should look a little more closely, then, at Dürer’s Vision. The two figures, John and the Holy One on the throne, are fully articulated in space and speak an eloquent emotional language of gesture. Dürer by this time had been to Italy and absorbed the lessons of the budding Italian Renaissance. But the space his figures occupy is clearly the realm of the imagination and the supernatural, with its floating lampstands and startling effects of light around Christ’s head and hand.

Here the artist must face the challenge of giving visual form to what is essentially unseeable.


Continued at Touchstone Magazine | More Chronicle & Notices.

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