The inaugural exhibition in the European works on paper rotation space (on view until March 20) explores the Renaissance in Germany. Comprised completely of prints from the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum, you can find engravings by Heinrich Aldegrever (1502–ca. 1561) and stipple engravings by Hans Sebald Beham (1500–1550). But you can’t study printmaking in the German Renaissance without a serious consideration of Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528). And we’re lucky enough to have 14 prints by the master! This is the second of a series of posts related to Dürer’s prints.
Last time, we learned a little about Albrecht Dürer by looking at a woodcut from his series called The Apocalypse. In this post, we’ll look at a different type of print—an engraving—with religious subject matter.
Madonna with the Monkey is one of several Madonna and child compositions that Dürer produced throughout his career. His Catholic German patrons would be interested in the powerful woman that had become so central to the salvation of man by being the mother of Christ. This type of print would be popular and consequently sell well. In the current display at the Milwaukee Art Museum, there are two other depictions of the Madonna and child (Madonna and the Infant in Swaddling and the Madonna with the Pear) and two prints from the series The Life of the Virgin (The Death of Mary and The Circumcision of Jesus).
In Madonna with the Monkey, Dürer shows a young, loving mother holding her chubby baby. This display of emotion, combined with the well-modeled physicality of the figures, is a contrast to previous depictions of the Madonna and Child found in central Europe (compare this sculptural example at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). This is likely a result of Dürer’s first visit to Italy, from 1491 to 1495. While there, he studied artwork of the Italian Renaissance and the classical past. He brought back sketches and ideas which moved German art away from the frontal, stylized representations of the middle ages.