Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Antiquity Unleashed: Aby Warburg, Dürer and Mantegna

Antiquity Unleashed: Aby Warburg, Dürer and Mantegna
The Courtauld Gallery 17 October 2013 to 12 January 2014

On 5 October 1905 an audience of some 300 people attended a lecture at Hamburg’s concert hall entitled ‘Dürer and Italian Antiquity’ (Dürer und die italienische Antike). The speaker was the 39-year-old banker’s son Aby Warburg (1866-1929), who would go on to become one of the most influential art historians and cultural theorists of the 20th century. Warburg illustrated his lecture with a striking display of ten original works of art borrowed for the occasion from the Hamburger Kunsthalle. They included Albrecht Dürer’s early master drawing

The Death of Orpheus,

the celebrated engravings

Melancholia I

and Nemesis,

and four exceptional prints by Andrea Mantegna (c.1431-1506).

Featuring the very same works of art, this exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery recreates Warburg’s seminal display to consider his influential contribution to the study of Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). It is organised in collaboration with the Hamburger Kunsthalle and complements The Courtauld’s main exhibition The Young Dürer: Drawing the Figure.

Aby Warburg’s life’s work was devoted to understanding the persistence of classical antiquity in the art and culture of the Renaissance. Whereas prevailing scholarship advocated an idealistic view of classical sculpture characterised by nobility and calm grandeur, Warburg highlighted the importance of the passions in classical art and culture. Dürer’s The Death of Orpheus was fundamental to Warburg’s revisionist approach. Dürer drew this work in 1494, the year that he is thought to have travelled to Venice. The poet Ovid recounts how Orpheus was torn apart in an ecstatic frenzy by the female followers of the god Dionysus. Existing art theory assumed that Dürer’s unembellished scene of destructive passion could only have been based on life studies. However, Warburg was able to show that Orpheus’s gesture derived from classical antiquity, transmitted to Dürer through Renaissance artists such as Andrea Mantegna. This was a vital step in understanding Dürer’s relationship to classical antiquity and Italian art.

Antiquity Unleashed: Aby Warburg, Dürer and mantegna

Paperback, 56 pages 210 x 210 mm, 30 illustrations
PRICE: £11.95
ISBN: 978 1 907372 58 2

Marcus Andrew Hertig