Saint Jerome in His Study



Saint Jerome in His Study

Albrecht Dürer

Engraving, 1514


St. Jerome in His Study


“Dürer did not, however, give up his original object of mastering the new art of engraving, building on the fine work of Schongauer. In effect he perfected engraving technique, stressing contour, texture, and light by mean of a new linear vocabulary, and rendering solid form by the sophisticated use of perspective. He extended his subject matter of engraving to include virtually everything depicted in painting, and for the first time made the large-scale engraving an independent work of art of the highest quality. By 1500 he was using gray tones, made up of tiny flecks and lines, which enabled him to create illusions of deep space. He pounced on the even newer art of etching (using acid to bite on a prepared ground of copper), which in the first decade of the sixteenth century had evolved from practice of engraving high-quality armor for princes – Dürer actually designed such a set for Emperor Maximilian; and although the armor has been lost, the design drawings remain. In 1514 he produced what are undoubtedly the three finest engravings ever made: Knight, Death, and the Devil; St. Jerome in His Study; and Melancholia. St. Jerome is straightforward, a virtuoso exercise in the difficult art of internal perspective and the production of complex tonal qualities using only fine lines. The other two are enigmatic. Knight has been interpreted in Germany for nearly half a millennium as an allegory of heroism and national courage overcoming all obstacles, physical and moral. Melancholia, shown as a woman symbolizing art and intellect, appears to be a comment on the nature of creativity and sadness (as well as joy) that it inevitably brings – quite possibly a reflection of Dürer’s own tortured psychology. The extraordinary skill with which these masterworks were composed and executed, and the mystery surrounding them )for even St. Jerome, it has been argued, carries hidden messages), have made them the summit of Dürer’s achievement and the most hotly debated of any German works of art. They seem to ask: can the creative spirit go any further?”

pg 42, Dürer: A Strong Smell of Printer’s Ink,

from the book Creators, by Paul Johnson 2006


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