Welcome/Artist Search Top 30 Most Popular Artists Monthly Features Art Museum Sites Worldwide Fine Art Links More About Us The Most Efficient Ad Targeting in the World Popup Glossary of Art-Related Terms

Feature Archive
Leonardo Da Vinci: Master Draftsman
Save 30% on the Exhibition Catalogue
          February, 2003
Masterful Leonardo and Graphic Dürer

By Joseph Phelan
          Albrecht Durer & His Legacy
Save 30% on the Exhibition Catalogue
Art critic Robert Hughes once said that although no writer on art can make people see, he can encourage them to look. This month I'd like to encourage readers to look at the work of Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer - two of the supreme visionaries in European art - by going to the excellent online features which accompany the current exhibits of their work in New York and London.

Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draughtsman, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Exhibition runs from January 22 through March 30, 2003
Leonardo da Vinci: A Rider on a Rearing Horse Trampling on a Fallen Foe Everybody knows Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is the author of the two most famous paintings in the world: the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. Yet people are often astonished to learn that he produced fewer than 15 paintings in all.

Leonardo was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, designer of theatrical entertainments, and a civil and military engineer. He was also one of the greatest natural scientists of all time investigating anatomy, geology, cloud formations, the principles of flight and the motions of the tides. Given all these competing passions it is not at all that surprising that Leonardo found it impossible to devote himself single-mindedly to painting.

Kenneth Clark, in his series Civilization, called Leonardo the most relentlessly curious man who ever lived. Everything he saw made him ask how and why. His motto was: Find out, write it down, and if you can see it, draw it.

His boundless intellectual curiosity was combined with an astonishing talent for seeing and sketching exactly what he saw. Vision was the most important means of understanding the world, and drawing and painting the most important means for describing nature and revealing nature's harmony and order.

The enormous breadth of his mind is manifest in his numerous manuscripts, which were preparations for treatises never completed, and in his working sketches and notebooks, which total many thousand pages.

Leonardo was an untiring draughtsman, and a larger number of his drawings have survived than of any other Renaissance artist. These allow us to follow the continuous process of his growth as an artist and a thinker. The real Leonardo, the full and unabridged universal Renaissance genius, is to be found in these sketches and notebooks.

Leonardo da Vinci: Head of the Virgin in Three-Quarter View Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draughtsman is the first comprehensive exhibit of these drawings ever presented in America, bringing together almost 120 works on paper as well as one painting.

The Met has developed a "special interactive feature" designed to complement the exhibit: an online tour (really an overview) of the show's eight galleries. This allows us to follow the stages in the development of Leonardo's mind through 34 representative drawings. Each of these can be enlarged several times thanks to a zoom feature. As you click you can even listen to excerpts from the audio guide by the Met Director Philippe de Montebello and the leading Leonardo scholar Sir Martin Kemp.

In addition there are generous excerpts from the print catalogue including the "Leonardo and His Drawings" by the curator Carmen Bambach, and articles on Leonardo's left- handedness and on the Codex Leicester one of his notebooks.

You will find concise and straightforward encyclopedia of information about the techniques, the materials and themes of Renaissance artists by going to the Met's own Timeline of Art History.

If all this makes you hungry to learn more about Leonardo da Vinci pick up a copy of Kenneth Clark's classic study which is still the best written and most discerning short guide to the artist.

Albrecht Dürer and his Legacy, at the British Museum, London
Exhibition runs from December 5, 2002 through March 23, 2003
Durer: Rhinoceros

Durer: Rhinoceros

Durer: Rhinoceros
   Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) was the first self-conscious artistic genius in Northern Europe art: a painter, draughtsman, printmaker, and theoretician and would-be reformer of the arts. Dürer exploited the new printing technology to disseminate cheap, mass produced prints throughout Europe. In so doing, Dürer combined self promotion and spiritual values, making him the first international superstar.

Dürer is sometimes called the German Leonardo because of his intellectual curiosity, but there is this enormous difference: while Leonardo was always looking outward at the great world around him to find out how things worked, Dürer was just as determined to look inward and explore the mystery of the human soul.

Dürer was first of all obsessed with his own personality. On the evidence of his paintings and drawings and prints, he was intensely self-conscious and inordinately vain. A famous drawing in silverpoint included in this exhibit, the "Self-Portrait of 1484 at the Age of Thirteen", is a brilliant demonstration of the young man's precocious talent and unusual self-consciousness. Even more audacious, although not included in the exhibit, are the paintings in which Dürer presents himself in the traditional pose and likeness of Christ.

Dürer seems to have invented the genre of the self-portrait, thereby founding a tradition which is one of the greatest strengths of Northern European painters (think of the many masterpieces in this vein by Rembrandt, van Gogh and Max Beckmann).

There is another massive difference between Leonardo and Dürer. In his notebooks and drawings Leonardo, who is so curious about nature and what man has made to harness nature, seems supremely indifferent to Christianity. It is unthinkable, for instance, that Leonardo would paint himself in the image of Christ as Dürer did.

Dürer, on the other hand, had the deepest sympathy with the rebellious strivings of the Christians of his time. He was a friend of Erasmus and Martin Luther both of whom he painted. When push came to shove, he took his stand firmly with Luther.

But as one of the greatest visual artists who ever lived, he must have been completely out of sympathy with the burgeoning iconoclasm of the Protestant radicals. He was the first great Northern artist who had to face the dilemma of the vanishing commission: no more palace frescos, no more church altarpieces, no more grand religious commissions like the Catholic artists in Italy and Flanders received.

The British Museum has added an online tour of Dürer and His Legacy, which has sections on "Dürer and His Image", "Dürer and Italy", "Dürer and the Emperor Maximilian", "The Dürer Renaissance" and "Dürer and the Romantics"

   Durer: Rhinoceros

Durer: Rhinoceros

Durer: Rhinoceros

Appendix: What is a Print?, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York

This is an informative feature about printmaking that was inadvertently left out of last months roundup of favorite online exhibitions. It makes an excellent supplement to the discussion of printmaking in Dürer.


Past Articles

January, 2003
      Favorite Online Art Museum Features, by Joseph Phelan
      Studies for Masterpieces, by John Malyon

December, 2002
      Advent Calendar 2002, narrated by Joseph Phelan

November, 2002
      Portrait of the Artist as a Serial Killer, by Joseph Phelan

October, 2002
      Renoir's Travelling, Bonnard's "At Home", by Joseph Phelan

September, 2002
      The Philosopher as Hero: Raphael's The School of Athens, by Joseph Phelan

August, 2002
      The Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization

July, 2002
      Celebrating Heroes; Celebrating Benjamin West, by Joseph Phelan

June, 2002
      Chasing the Red Deer into the American Sublime (Education and the Art Museum, Part II), by Joseph Phelan

May, 2002
      Planning Your Summer Vacation, by Joseph Phelan

March, 2002
      Education and the Art Museum, Part I, by Joseph Phelan

February, 2002
      Unsung Griots of American Painting, by Joseph Phelan

January, 2002
      The British Museum COMPASS Project, interview by Joseph Phelan
      Robert Hughes, Time Magazine Art Critic: Biography and Writings
      Lifestyle: Online Casinos Finally Get Real

December, 2001
      Software review: Le Louvre: The Virtual Visit on DVD-ROM, by Joseph Phelan

November, 2001
      Tragedy and Triumph at Arles: Van Gogh and Gauguin, by Joseph Phelan

October, 2001
      Her Last Bow: Sister Wendy in America, by Joseph Phelan

September, 2001
      Love, Death and Resurrection: The Paintings of Stanley Spencer, by Joseph Phelan

August, 2001
      Who is Rodin's Thinker?, by Joseph Phelan

July, 2001
      Celebrations North and South, by Joseph Phelan

June, 2001
      Rubens and his Age, by Joseph Phelan

May, 2001
      Great Reproductions of Great Paintings

April, 2001
      The Passion of Christ, by Joseph Phelan

March, 2001
      Edouard Manet: Public Spaces, Private Dreams, by Joseph Phelan

February, 2001
      Henry Moore and the British Museum: The Great Conversation, by Joseph Phelan

November, 2000
      Article: Notorious Portraits, Part II, by John Malyon

October, 2000
      Article: Notorious Portraits, Part I, by John Malyon
      Article: The Other Michelangelo, by Joseph Phelan

September, 2000
      Article: The Art of Drawing, by Joseph Phelan

August, 2000
      Article: Poussin and the Heroic Landscape, by Joseph Phelan

July, 2000
      Article: Great Art Museums Online, by Joseph Phelan

June, 2000
      Article: Venetian Painting and the Rise of Landscape, by Joseph Phelan

May, 2000
      Article: Forbidden Visions: Mythology in Art, by Joseph Phelan

April, 2000
      Article: Themes in Art: The Passion of Christ, by Joseph Phelan
      Web site review: Christus Rex

March, 2000
      Web site review: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., by Joseph Phelan
      Online exhibit review: Inuit Art: The World Around Me, by John Malyon

February, 2000/Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Results)

January, 2000/Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Part II)

December, 1999/Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Part I)

November, 1999/The Louvre Museum
      Web site review: The Louvre

October, 1999/Impressionism
      Web site review: North Carolina Museum of Art

September, 1999/Optical Art
      Web site review: The Butler Institute of American Art

August, 1999/Animals in Art
      Web site review: National Museum of Wildlife Art
      Online exhibit review: PBS: American Visions

July, 1999/Surrealism

June, 1999/Sculpture
      Web site review: Carol Gerten's Fine Art
      Online exhibit review: Michael Lucero: Sculpture 1976-1995

May, 1999/Women in the Arts
      Web site review: National Museum of Women in the Arts
      Online exhibit review: Jenny Holzer: Please Change Beliefs

April, 1999/The Golden Age of Illustration
      Web site review: Fine Arts Museums Of San Francisco
      Online exhibit review: Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe online

March, 1999/Vincent van Gogh
      Web site review: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
      Web site review: The Vincent van Gogh Information Gallery

February, 1999/Great Art
      Web site review: The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
      Online exhibit review: John Singleton Copley: Watson and the Shark