The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein (3 stars)

This article is from 2011

The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein

Compendium of works inspired by the Renaissance innovator

There’s something of an inky-fingered Dürer overload in the ‘burgh just now. Following on from Dürer’s Fame over at the National Galleries, this 16th century compendium of more than 100 works uses his output as a springboard for the burgeoning of religious reform and free artistic expression across the continent, tellingly illustrated on the map from 1500 at the top of the stairs with the British Isles dominating.

Not that there’s anything from dear old Blighty in evidence across the three sections of the show, which begins with Dürer, moves on to peers such as Lucas Cranach and co, finishing with portraiture by Holbein that could be storyboarding TV show The Tudors.

Dürer’s output remains the most compelling work on show, from his religious iconography that is the equivalent of pop star pin-ups, with Saints Jerome, Anthony and Eustace a kind of ecclesiastical Take That, to his pen-and-ink studies of greyhounds and a gloriously puffed-up rhinoceros, to the damsel in distress in ‘The Sea Monster’, a clear template for sword’n’sorcery comic-book geekery. Best of all are the furiously busy images from ‘The Apocalypse’, which show where Alasdair Gray copped his moves for his frontispieces to Lanark.

Elsewhere, Cranach’s mythological idylls gets us back to the garden, while Holbein’s studies of Henry VIII’s court shows off a series of conspiratorial-looking men and doe-eyed Liv Tyler-alikes awaiting their own reformation. Maybe that out-of-scale map on the stairs is even more telling.

Queen’s Gallery, 556 5100, until 15 Jan, £6 (£5.50).

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