Analysis of A Young Hare by Albrecht Durer
A masterpiece of German Renaissance Art (1430-1580), Albrecht Durer's still life of A Young Hare is one of the first nature studies to constitute a painting in its own right. Like his later work Great Piece of Turf (1503, Albertina), the animal is painted with in a hyperrealist manner, just like a photograph. The watercolour - also known as The Field Hare, or The Wild Hare - exemplifies the detailed realism of the Northern Renaissance: a style which originated in early 15th century Flemish painting, embodied by Jan van Eyck (1390-1441). Durer himself learned drawing and illustration from the Nuremberg artist Michael Wolgemut (1434-1519), although he is best-known for his printmaking - notably woodcuts and engraving, which he learned from his goldsmith-trained father. He is also noted for his innovative self-portraits - see, for instance, Self Portrait with Fur Collar (1500) - as well as his fascination for landscape, plants and animals, which he developed during his travels in Germany and Italy. How familiar he was with the Danube School in southern Germany, is unclear, but he produced a quantity of watercolour landscape painting during the 1490s, including Pond in the Woods (1495, British Museum).
A Young Hare was Durer's animal masterwork, although we still do not know whether he sketched the animal in the wild and then completed it indoors, or whether he copied it from life in his studio. Some art critics claim that the reflection of a window frame in the hare's eye indicates the latter, but this reflection is a technique that he often used to add extra vitality to his subjects. In reality, Durer probably used a stuffed hare to paint from, after making sketch notes in the wild. Certainly the scientific detail is impressive, but Durer's affinity for texture and use of light to add life to his subject is even more impressive. Not only does he manage to highlight the ears and pick out the tip of each hair across the body, but also he imbues the animal with a warm golden light that gives life to the eye.
Durer first sketched the hare and then applied a brown wash. Next, he built up the fur using a mixture of dark and light brushstrokes in both watercolour and bodycolour. He then added a few details including the whiskers and the reflection of the window in the animal's eye. Once he finished the watercolour panting, he then applied some opaque gouache, painting groups of lines to mimic the lie of the fur. Finally he added white highlights to give the animal its three-dimensional appearance.
Durer paid at least two visits to Italy during which he absorbed much of the humanism and new techniques of the Italian Renaissance, especially the Renaissance in Venice and the north of Italy. As a result, he was able to synthesize characteristics of Northern or older medieval painting and the new Renaissance art being developed in Florence. This, together with the sheer variety and quality of his work, as well as his theoretical writings, fully justifies his reputation as one of the best artists in the history of art.
Northern Renaissance Paintings Analyzed
Here is our analysis of some of the greatest paintings of the Netherlandish and German schools.
Descent From the Cross (1435-40) Prado, Madrid.
By Roger van der Weyden.
Portinari Altarpiece (1476-9) Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
By Hugo van der Goes.
Last Judgment Triptych (1471) Muzeum Narodowe, Gdansk.
By Hans Memling.
Isenheim Altarpiece (1515) Unterlinden Museum, Colmar.
By Matthias Grunewald.
“Nature holds the beautiful, for the artist who has the insight to extract it. Thus, beauty lies even in humble, perhaps ugly things, and the ideal, which bypasses or improves on nature, may not be truly beautiful in the end.”
Young Hare, a watercolor and body color work from 1502 painted by Albrecht Dürer, is one of the most recognized and beloved works in the history of art. It is not a still life, nor is it a depiction of a dead animal as seen in many other works from that era. Dürer stepped away from the traditional Renaissance genres and created an extraordinary realistic representation of quite an ordinary animal. The image doesn’t contain symbolism that could have been of any virtue to Dürer or his contemporaries; neither is the hare referencing religious or mythological subject matter. The animal is depicted absolutely independently – a young hare just as it is.
The hare’s body is under painted and then plotted with wide brushstrokes, while individual hairs are executed with a greater variety of tones and delicate brushwork. The texture is so masterfully built up that you can almost feel the texture of the fur. Pay attention to hare’s ears perked up – another detail bringing the animal to life. Finally, the whiskers, claws and the reflection in the animal’s pupil bring the image to completion (or should we say perfection!)
It wasn’t until the 17th century that animals became a recognized genre in painting. In other words, very few artists addressed it until then, as many thought it couldn’t fully convey their artistic vision to public. Dürer was among the first artists to view animals as a subject that is actually worth attention and examination. The natural world and the fundamental truths it disguised captivated him and he probably created many of these images for pure enjoyment and out of curiosity. It was during the age of discoveries, when explorers were returning from distant lands to Europe bringing examples and illustrations of new species, sprucing interest in the world of animals and plants, both exotic and local. Young Hare and Durer’s other numerous paintings, drawings, sketches and prints, all demonstrate appreciation of fine detail and capture the structure and texture of a wide range of animals.
The painting’s German title translates as “Field Hare” and the work is often referred to in English as the Hare or Wild Hare. The Albertina alternates storing and displaying The Hare each decade. and while it is currently on display the Feldhase (German) will soon be removed from view for preservation.
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