Friday, December 10, 2010

Dürer! Me! Working!

Sometimes, at work, we just get totally awesome things. Last week we had two Dürer engravings. Two! Dürers! And I got to treat one!!!

When it comes to printmaking, German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528) is The Man. Freakishly talented as a youngster, by his twenties he was noted across Europe for his mad printmaking skills, and since that time has been regarded as one of (if not the most) important artists of the Northern Renaissance.

Self Portrait, 1500 (painting, obviously)

Like most successful artists of the day, it would be highly unusual if he cut the woodblocks for the prints himself. Most likely he drew the images for his woodcuts and then had a lower-level somebody on his team actually cut them from the block.

My art history classes were years ago, and though one particular printmaking course hit Dürer really hard, I can't be certain if he made his own engraving plates... but I'm inclined to think yes, because he spent some quality time as some sort of apprentice to a goldsmith, which would have involved engraving metal.

The Four Riders of Apocalypse, 1497-98, (woodcut)

We had two engravings, belonging to a private client, which were in pretty good condition and needed only did minor treatments. How fabulous though, to spend two days six inches away from one of these! People would just drop by my bench to look at it. The photographer told me that she admired it for about ten minutes before shooting the before treatment photograph. Sometimes I just sat there and looked at it.

Dürer's works were revolutionary. And because prints are portable and so easily reproduced (compared to things like paintings), his influence was felt across Europe. You could roughly break the history of European printmaking into Before Dürer and After Dürer.

(Please note, these are examples of Dürer's work, not necessarily images of the ones we had in the lab).

Melancholia I, 1514

Saint Jerome in His Study, 1514

These last two match the tonality of the paper much better than the straight black-and-white images do. The paper is over 500 years old, so it's going to be yellow/brownish.

Adam and Eve, 1504

Saint Anthony at the City, 1513

Thursday, December 9, 2010


At work, we've been in a near-constant state of uproar for the past three weeks. Our former Director of Conservation (former as in 'retired after 20+ years in late September') passed away unexpectedly the weekend before Thanksgiving.

The entire staff was a mess. The three days before Thanksgiving involved all of our staff making phone calls and the senior staff helping his wife make arrangements and putting together a memorial service for the Philadelphia museum community. The memorial service was this past Tuesday, and a huge number of people attended. At work, people are still feeling down. You can tell, because everyone's clothes aren't as colorful as they usually are.

From the announcement made in the Book and Paper Group of the national conservation professional organization:
Glen Ruzicka's contributions to the field are international and extensive. He represented a different generation of conservators—a generation which not only mastered their craft but set new standards in scholarship. He stood out for his consummate bench skill, for his talent as a teacher and mentor, for his big hearted and warm disposition, and his contagious passion for the conservation and preservation of our cultural heritage. He was universally admired, respected, and loved, and will be incredibly missed.