Albrecht Dürer, Prodigal Son, Engraving, about 1497, when the artist was 26 years old
Albrecht Dürer, Madonna and Child, Engraving, about 1514 when the artist was 43 years old
I recently saw these two Dürer engravings hung side by side and the Denver Art Museum and what was to me extraordinary in seeing them was the progress that was evident between the making of the first and the second engraving. While the Prodigal Son is an extraordinary engraving , the work on the Madonna leaves it looking like student work in comparison. I always find it fascinating to see in the work of the greatest of the Old Masters the clear development in both vision and technical control as they mature. Viewing the images digitally doesn’t give the true contrast but you can get something of what I’m referring to by looking at the treatment of clothing in the Prodigal Son vs. that worn by the Madonna. Not only the fantastically complex and mesmerizing invention of shapes, but the incredibly rich variety of tonal effect and subtle conveyance of the contrasting texture of the Madonna’s clothing.
The years between 1512 and 1517 were shaped by commissioned work for printed graphics from Emperor Maximillian I. The years 1513 to 1514, when the Madonna was done, are generally considered the high point of Dürer’s graphic work.
Here are some details from some of the other engravings from that period:
Knight Death and the Devil (detail)
St. St. Jerome in His Study (detail)
Melancholia 1, detail