Step into Roy Underhill’s bathroom at The Woodwright’s School, and you’ll encounter a poster of Albrecht Dürer’s “Melencolia I,” a puzzling image filled with mysterious symbols and woodworking tools.
Whenever a student goes missing in the bathroom during the classes at Roy’s, it is for one of two reasons: the pork chop sandwich from lunch is troubling their innards, or they are studying “Melencolia I” and have lost track of time in the loo.
If you like Dürer’s work and live in the Midwest, I suggest you close your laptop, get in your car and drive to Cincinnati before Feb. 11, 2018, to visit the Cincinnati Art Museum’s exhibit ”Albrecht Dürer: The Age of Reformation and Renaissance.” Admission is free. Parking is free.
The exhibit tracks the progression of Dürer’s work using dozens of original prints he created using engraving, etching and drypoint. And the museum supplies magnifying glasses so you can view every stroke and get within about 1” of the original works.
This was the first time I ever got to see an actual print of “Melencolia I.” Like always, seeing the original is much different than seeing it on screen. The texture of the paper, the resolution of each line, even the physical edges of the image stir up a wilder set of feelings than pixels.
It was great to see the square and straightedge, both of which I’ve built many times for myself and customers. (Free plans for the square are here.)
I also spent some time hunting down other woodworking and tool images in the prints. One of the prints, “Sojourn of the Holy Family in Egypt” (1501-1502), depicts a sawbench much like the one recovered from the Mary Rose shipwreck. And it features a birdsmouth or ripping notch. That might be the earliest depiction of the birdsmouth I am aware of. (Correction: Suzanne Ellison pointed out the earliest one she’s uncovered is 1390.)
On the more gruesome side of things, there’s “Martyrdom of the 10,000” (1496-1497) in which someone is boring out the eye of a bishop with an auger. This image sent me scurrying to my archive of images. Somewhere in there is an image that Jeff Burks dug up that shows the eyeworker alone, separate from the chaotic scene.
My favorite part of the exhibit was an excerpt from the colaphon of the book “Life of the Virgin.” I wish we could print this inside all our books, instead of the dry copyright notice.
Woe to thee, fraudster and thief
of someone else’s labors and
invention, let thou not even think
of laying thy impertinent hands
on this work. For let me tell thee
that Maximilian, the most glorious
emperor of the Holy Roman Empire,
granted us the privilege that no one
might print copies of these pictures,
and that no such prints might be sold
within the imperial domains. But
should thou still transgress, whether
out of disregard or criminal avarice,
be assured that after confiscation
of thy property the severest penalties
— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com