Albrecht Dürer was born in Nuremberg in 1477 in a Hungarian family. When he was 15, he started to work at Michael Wolgemut’s workshop where he learned the techniques of xylography and edition. Was then when he started his emancipation of the traditional techniques and the art that were used before.
The invention of the printing press as well as the influence of his artisan family are two important facts in order to understand the development of Dürer’s artistic skills and his interest for engraving. Nevertheless, he also stood out in traditional painting techniques such as watercolor and oil.
In the Gaudí Exhibition Center, you will be able to enjoy a series of monochromatic engravings about the passion of Jesus Christ. This set was published for the first time in 1513, as a part of a book with sixteen stamps on it. The dimensions of these engravings (between 115mm and 120mm long to 75 mm width) are the result of the capacity of paper in the fifteenth century, but also the technique Dürer used: dry point in copper sheets making incisions to draw. In this case, Dürer used a little sharp point burin to accomplish this quantity of detail in miniature. An interesting aspect about this technique is that it does not allow making serial reproduction of engravings because the copper sheet wears down with the pressure of stamping the paper. However, this technique is the only one that tolerates the extreme precision and detail that Dürer made.
The narrative of the passion of Jesus Christ illustrates the moments of the lasts hours of Jesus life: the Last Supper, death and resurrection. This iconographic theme has been represented endless times through history of art. It also appears with an almost defined outline of scenes and motives. Dürer follows this representation scheme even though he shows a new personality and expression in the works.
This series starts with the figure of Jesus Christ as the man of sorrows, followed by a Jesus Christ in the Mount Olives, were Jesus prayed before he was arrested. Then we see the arrest of Jesus, were Dürer shows us a chaotic scene, followed by Jesus with Caifas and Jesus with Pilatus. The flagellation, also shown as violent scene where we see a vulnerable and moribund Jesus, the representation of the Ecce Homo and the coronation.
All these scenes precede, the previous moments to the Crucifixion of Jesus and the moment before it: the lamentation, the Burial of Christ, Christ’s descent into Limbo and the resurrection.
The collection finished with an engraving referring to Saint Peter and Saint John at the doors of the temple. This engraving has been controversial and has raised some questions in the history of art. Erwin Panofsky, an important art historian, thought that this engraving was made to introduce a new series about the Acts of the Apostol. Nevertheless, this original does not appear in later reproductions. This is due to the printing methods, that reprinting with copper sheets was limited.
On the other hand, there are historians that consider this piece alien to the collection. However, there is no real evidence of any of these theories.
In conclusion, the little passion is a tribute to the figure of Christ, that magnifies his spiritual personality and dignifies the character. It shows us a human and vulnerable Jesus, but also an incredibly majestic and full of grace. We see in Dürer, a change in the representation of the character that follows the basic concepts of the new view of Christianity that runs through Nuremberg and the Germanic lands: the Protestantism. In addition, we see an exquisite perfection on the minuteness of this innovative technique.
If you want to learn more about Dürer, you can visit the exhibition Dürer: master of the Renaissance where you can see all the engravings in the rooms of the Museu Diosesà-Gaudí Exhibition Center. Moreover, with the same ticket you can visit the full exhibition at the Reial Cercle Artístic and the Cathedral of Barcelona.