Albrecht Dürer’s Hare – 500 years old

One of the world’s most popular works of art is 500 years old. Albrecht Dürer’s (1471-1528) water color Hare, well-known from countless reproductions and not least from the covers of schoolchildren’s sketch pads, was inscribed with the famous AD monogram and the year 1502 by the master from Nuremberg himself.

What has made the Hare, which has been in the holdings of the Albertina Museum for hundreds of years, so popular? Generations of art historians have described the “touching meekness of the crouching animal”. At first sight the look in the animal’s eyes would suggest this indeed, and the illusionistic effect of Dürer’s painting technique makes the viewer almost physically feel the soft fur and the delicate bone structure.

Above that, the Hare is one of the earliest examples of an attitude of artists for whom something ordinary, a common animal like the hare – not, say, a symbol of power and strength like the lion – has become worthy of being immortalized in a portrait.

Mr. Klaus Albrecht Schröder, Director of the Albertina: “With the Hare Dürer created something revolutionary: the unbiased reproduction of nature, pursued with scientific precision. This requires considerable, you might say scientific, detachment from the object on the part of the artist. At the same time, Dürer compassionately endowed the hare with a soul. Dürer’s hare is not a still life and no dead object but a living being of flesh and blood. In works like this, Dürer overcomes the Middle Ages and proves himself a pioneer of humanism, of modern Renaissance.”

Each individual hair of the animal seems to be reproduced accurately. Only on closer inspection can the viewer appreciate the surprising economy of resources with which Albrecht Dürer painted the hare, how simply and clearly the animal’s body was plotted down with broad brushstrokes, with individual hairs being put on with a pointed brush.

In Dürer’s day and age, lifelike taxidermal specimens were not available. Very likely Albrecht Dürer painted a living hare in his studio, of which the resting position of the animal, sitting with his head raised and his ears pricked up, is also evidence. The window of Dürer’s studio is reflected in the animal’s pupil.

No fewer than a dozen reproductions of Albrecht Dürer’s Hare existed already as early as in the last third of the 16th century. There has never been any doubt about the authenticity of Dürer’s Hare in the Albertina. The painting can be traced back to the master’s studio in Nuremberg. After Albrecht Dürer’s death, the Hare came into the art collection of the merchant and collector of Dürer works Willibald Imhoff. Emperor Rudolf II acquired the painting from Imhoff’s heirs and took it to Prague. When Rudolf II died, the Hare was at first kept at the Vienna Kunstkammer, then at the Schatzkammer. In 1796, Emperor Francis II gave the painting to the founder of the Albertina, Albert Duke of Saxon-Teschen, as a present for his collection, which was already famous in his own time.

In fall 2003, the Hare will be on show for the first time in 30 years, at the great Albrecht Dürer retrospective at the Albertina.

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Published in: on July 6, 2003 at 12:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

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