Dürer’s Mountain Hut in Ruins (1494-5)

In the catalogue of a large and important exhibition in 2000 titled Renaissance Venice and the North Isolde Lübbeke, a specialist on early German art, described a watercolor by Dürer of some ruins in the mountain this way:

"On the one hand, these lines demarcate the discrete stones. On the other, they define general features such as the fissured outline, which should be read as a human profile [my italics], and, therefore suggests that the material has been eerily rendered animate.......

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Captions for image(s) above:

Dürer, Mountain Hut in Ruins (1494-5) Ink on paper. Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan.

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"In a similar vein", she continued, "the tree trunk in the very front of the foreground has been shaped to suggest an animal's head with button-like burls as its eyes. Similar phenomena, such as the physiognomic rock in the view of the fortress at Arco, reveal Dürer's intensive preoccupation with rendering landscape elements in a way that goes far beyond mere description."

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Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Dürer's Mountain Hut in Ruins  

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It is an important identification because Dr. Lübbeke is a Dürer specialist but as a specialist she may be unaware of just how many works by artists in every century include similar anthropomorphic rocks. I am not even certain which lines she refers to here because there is both a human profile in the left contour of the rock and some fuller, more rounded features - tip of the nose and lips alone - in the larger rocks closer to us. There are suggestive features elsewhere as well.

See conclusion below

Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Dürer's Mountain Hut in Ruins  

Click image to enlarge.

It seems to me that Dürer is describing how an artist's imagination is like an ancient ruin, a feature of the mind as old as ancient rocks but still alive with all sorts of anthropomorphic possibilities. Artists turn one form into another just as the rocks do here. Dürer included similar veiled faces in other drawings, one or two recognized by conventional art historians but most still un-noted. Be alive to such possibilities because the more you see elsewhere the more you will be able to see what others cannot. For instance, one such piece is Cranach's still unseen rock-face in The Martyrdom of St. Barbara, a prominent painting at the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 24 Jun 2011. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.