Monday, November 24, 2008

Durer's Large Piece of Turf

Albrecht Durer painted A Large Piece of Turf in 1503. This water color is considered a masterpiece of his realistic work. His attention to detail and extraordinary skill in rendering what he saw (if this is what he saw; surly he made alterations for aesthetic reasons) allows us, at a distance of over 500 years, to immediately appreciate the image and even to identify most of the plants.

While the work is highly realistic in its detail, it uses artificial compositional elements, presenting the piece of turf against a blank background, contrasting the complex image against the void behind, and using the edges of the paper to frame and arbitrarily cut off the vegetation at the top and sides. We use similar skills in the garden to frame features, scenes and vistas, and to contrast foreground against background.

The contrasting shapes and textures of the foliage, the massing of the plants, and the tension among the vertical grasses provide lessons for the naturalistic gardener.


  1. Isn't that beautiful! I'm only familiar with his prints and hadn't seen this before - such detail.

  2. It's been one of my favorites since I took art history in college. Like a direct communication across half a millennium.

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  4. I followed the link to your posting on Albrecht. Your point that he was an artisan rather than an artist is well taken. Your summary of his early life and the comparison to the Wyeth image is insightful and rather convincing. It makes me want to know more.

  5. Oh dear, James...
    I'm shocked. I was hoping for an argument :-)

    I expanded the post a little. BTW, did you like my grass?

  6. Joco, I'm a conciliator. I don't like argument. When I ask for criticism, I'm asking for ideas to make something better or to help me see in a new way, not for argument of verbal sparring. However, I suppose I can't control the way in which it comes.

    I do appreciate your expanded post, and I still agree you have shared a useful and intriguing insight. Before reading your post, I had not been aware of the similarity of Wyeth's and Durer's attention to naturalistic (nature) detail. Your post has driven me to want to learn more about both Durer and Wyeth.

    As to YOUR grass, I like it--the implied narrative, the parallel tracks curving through the grass to the copse of trees in the distance, the soft texture of the grass, the way in which the angled light delineates the tracks. I'm curious, how do you like your grass?

  7. James,you're scolding me:
    Tongue in cheek it was.
    (However, gentle verbal sparring is not necessarily a bad thing in my book)

    You summed up my grass patch beautifully and exactly the way I feel it. Took me ages to get it like that and it always has to be cut at some point in the year, sadly. Though sometimes I invite the lambs in.

    Though it is tempting to imagine a few patches of colour here and there, I don't think I will be striving for a semblance of Slovenia steppes or Midwest prairies, in line with some of today's trends. English meadows suit me fine.

  8. Joco,

    Why imitate some distant ecology when you have a beautiful English meadow in England? I'm of much the same opinion in planting my garden. I call it a wet prairie, and there IS evidence that prairies existed on the east coast of the US though they were far less extensive than in the Midwest. (See the link to 'An Historical Prairie Remnant in Virginia by Peter Heus' in the sidebar above.) I'm doing the best with what I've been dealt - saturated wet clay in a clearing in the woods. But this is creation of a new garden using both native plants and 'exotics', definitely NOT restoration ecology.



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