Charles Loring Elliott, Portrait of Matthew Vassar, 1861

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Art Center celebrates the work of the Northern Renaissance’s greatest artist in the exhibition, Albrecht Dürer: Impressions of the Renaissance, November 14 – December 24, 2009.

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY- Albrecht Dürer: Impressions of the Renaissance, an exhibition organized by the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, will feature 41 works celebrating the world of Albrecht Dürer, one of the greatest artists of the Northern Renaissance. All except one of the prints will be drawn from the permanent collection of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, renowned for its Old Master print collection. The exhibition will open to the public, without charge, from Saturday, November 14 through Thursday, December 24. On Thursday, November 19, exhibition curator, Patricia Phagan, The Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Center, will give a lecture about Dürer and printmaking, with a reception to follow.

The exhibition will illustrate the relatively new art of printmaking, in which Dürer injected "a profound pictorial flair and emphasis on original design, marking a new stage in the history of the medium," according to exhibition curator Phagan. With his virtuosic technique and painterly eye, Phagan noted: "Dürer raised the level of engraving and woodcut to new heights that stunned his European contemporaries."

Included in the exhibition will be 19 prints by Dürer, which feature several beautifully inked, fresh impressions by the artist from the Art Center's Felix M. Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, given to the college in the early 1940s. Engravings by several of Dürer's contemporaries also will be on view, including the "Little Masters" of German printmaking and Italian printmakers such as Marcantonio Raimondi.

Some of the themes, which will be illustrated within the exhibition include:

  • the revival of interest in classical antiquity, with prints including Hercules at the Crossroads;
  • portraits of intellectuals, including Willibald Pirckheimer, Erasmus, and Philip Melanchthon;
  • writing by contemporary theological scholars, including Desiderius Erasmus and by Dürer's neighbor and friend, Lazarus Spengler;
  • and illustrations of biblical and allegorical stories, including Adam and Eve, St. Jerome in his Study, and Melencolia I.

Phagan will also pair fragmentary sculptural reliefs from the ancient classical period (also from the permanent collection) with some of the classically inspired prints. In addition, the Latin edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle, of 1493, and one other early printed book (both on loan from Special Collections, Vassar College Library) will be on view.

Phagan noted that Dürer, who made printmaking his principal medium, revolutionized it by treating his prints as fine art rather than craft. Growing up in the "bookish ferment of Nuremberg," she noted he might even have contributed woodcuts to the Nuremberg Chronicle, published by Durer's godfather Anton Koberger, one of the principal printer publishers in Nuremberg. The Nuremberg Chronicle became the world's first encyclopedia of places, people, and their histories, with its hundreds of illustrations rooted in the flattened, rudimentary style of Gothic illuminated manuscripts.

"With keen curiosity and a modest formal education, Dürer interacted with leading humanists and scholars of the northern Renaissance, an exciting period when the spread of resurrected texts and classical art sparked a fashionable cultural revolution in his native Nuremberg," remarked Phagan. Their discussions and friendships inform many of his prints, which became monuments in the history of printmaking."

Some of the ideas Dürer illustrated in his prints stem in part from his conversations with scholars and their knowledge of ancient and contemporary literature made available in first and newly published editions, according to Phagan. For instance, she noted, he often discussed intellectual issues with his dearest friend Willibald Pirckheimer, a Nuremberg scholar and translator who studied at the Universities of Padua and Pavia and whose engraved portrait by Dürer is in the exhibition. Pirckheimer amassed a private library of classical texts and was at the center of the elite humanist circle in Nuremberg.

One of the engravings that will be featured in the exhibition is Dürer's Hercules at the Crossroads. Based upon the tale of Prodicus, as told by Xenophon, the engraving depicts the moment when the future hero "must decide his road in life, whether to follow the difficult path of virtue or venture down the more convenient one of pleasure," Phagan explained. "Dürer's design in this work melded story with knowledge of contemporary Italian art, especially engravings by Mantegna, such as his Battle of the Sea Gods."

Other influences on Dürer include knowledge of contemporary Florentine humanist sources, such as the writings of Poliziano. These may be seen in the artist's Nemesis, or "The Large Fortune," which will also be on view in the exhibition.  "Here a formidable, severe goddess with ‘whirring wings' walking and ‘floating in empty air' oversees the destiny of a valley and village far below," Phagan noted.

The fragmentary classical reliefs in the exhibition, of satyrs, winged figures, and other iconic subjects of the ancient period, vividly illustrate the classical world's hold upon the imaginations of Dürer and his contemporaries according to Phagan. During this same era with the rise of humanism, there was a revived interest in classical motifs. Both the ideas of humanism and the classical imagery attracted Dürer, she said, and helped to propel his prints of classical gods and goddesses, sea monsters, and satyrs, as well as his portraits of scholars.

The exhibition also explores how the new theological writings stimulated Dürer and his contemporaries. These writings inspired and propelled their prints of St. Jerome, biblical figures, Satan, and Death. Indeed, Phagan remarked, there was much scholarly activity at the time on St. Jerome, by Desiderius Erasmus and by Dürer's neighbor and friend, Lazarus Spengler, among others.

A checklist compiled by organizing curator, Patricia Phagan, will accompany the exhibition.

All programs are free and open to the public.

Thursday, November 19, 5:30pm
Lecture and reception

Exhibition curator Patricia Phagan, the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings, will discuss the exhibition. Taylor Hall 203 (lecture) and Art Center (reception).

Thursday, December 3, 5:30pm
Scavenger hunt

Scavenger hunt designed by student docents and Arlington High School history students. Art Center.

The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building's primary donor, opened in 1993. The Lehman Loeb Art Center's collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise almost 18,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares. Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college's inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American 20th- century painters. Vassar was the first U.S. college founded with a permanent art collection and gallery, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections.

Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free. The art center is open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10:00am-5:00pm; Thursday, 10:00am-9:00pm; and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 pm. Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites and homes, and the Vanderbilt mansion. The Art Center is wheelchair accessible. For more information, the public may call (845) 437-5632 or visit

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Monday, October 5, 2009


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