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Durer's Fame

National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh until October 11th
4 stars
German handball star Pascal Hens gazes out from a black and white
poster, his torso naked, gaze serious, his pose one of
self-deification. This is enhanced further by a tattoo on his stomach
of two disembodied hands clasped together as if in prayer. It's an
image made familiar by its own iconic status which, in the context of
the poster, borders on a state of heroic kitsch. Further down the
corridor in a glass case sits a green-moulded plastic hare taken from
an installation that filled a Nuremburg square with seven thousand of
the little critters. Again, it's familiar twenty-first century apparel
points to both parody and homage.

Both works, in fact, are two of the most recent examples that take from
sixteenth century German maestro of woodcuts and engravings, Albrecht
Durer. Hens' buff-bellied tattoo is taken from Durer's 'Study of
Praying Hands', while the electric green hare looks to one of Durer's
most vivid images for inspiration. This isn't some recent post-modern
appropriation, mind, but, as this striking selection of Durer's own
explicitly monochrome works set besides some of his contemporaries and
acolytes proves, Durer was in fact one of the earliest examples of art
star, whose fan-boy copyists manufactured their own output in his image.

The opening woodcut in this laterally-inspired show, 'The
Circumcision', has no less than three homages by Durer's
contemporaries, while nineteenth century Scottish artist William Bell
Scott depicts the man himself looking out over Nuremberg in the
nearest thing here to a pin-up as the cult of personality pervades.
Beyond the romanticised image, Durer's biblical works for the tellingly
titled 'The Apocalypse' are knee-deep in an ecclesiastical and
transcendental melodrama that holds an eternal appeal for serious young
men everywhere, whatever century they're in.

The List, July 2011

ends

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