CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Krannert Art Museum has added a 16th-century print by Albrecht Durer – one of the world’s most skilled engravers – to its collection, thanks to an acquisition prize that provided funds for the purchase.
The museum was awarded the 2017 Richard Hamilton Acquisition Prize, given by the International Fine Print Dealers Association. Krannert Art Museum is the first academic art museum to receive the prize. The award of $10,000 – funded by Champion & Partners, a Boston-based executive search firm – was used at the IFPDA Print Fair in New York City to purchase a new work for the museum’s permanent collection.
The print purchased by Krannert Art Museum from C.G. Boerner, “Christ Carrying the Cross,” was made in 1512. It is from a series of copper engravings made by Durer called the “Engraved Passion.”
“It’s the very best and most dramatic out of the series. If you are only going to have one, this is the one to have,” said Maureen Warren, the curator of European and American art at Krannert Art Museum. “It is a superb impression, in terrific condition.”
The print is small, roughly 4 1/2 inches by 3 inches, but “it’s completely packed with beautiful, descriptive detail,” Warren said.
The scene shows Christ carrying the cross and turning back to look at St. Veronica at his feet while a guard is pulling him forward toward the place of his execution. In the background are soldiers with spears. Warren said the composition of the scene is unique, with the image of Christ in the center surrounded by angles that create tension.
“The scene has such a dramatic and emotional quality,” she said. “It shows a momentary stillness in the midst of chaos.”
Its nocturnal setting is also unique – it is believed to be the first time the scene was depicted at night, Warren said.
Durer used an innovative technique for suggesting texture and volume in his prints. His cross-hatched lines curve to match the shape of objects. He also used different types of lines for different materials represented in the image, such as hair, cloth or metal, Warren said. His technique enhanced the illusionism of the image, she said.
The print has an inscription on the back indicating it is the ninth print in the series, and has the signature of Pierre Mariette and the date 1670. Mariette was an important French art dealer, publisher and printmaker.
The print is described as a mature work made at the peak of Durer’s skills.
“Durer is credited with not only elevating printmaking as an independent medium, but also elevating the status of artists in the Renaissance, proving that they were not merely craftsmen but rather intellectuals and great creative minds,” Warren said.
About 40 percent of Krannert Art Museum’s collection of more than 10,000 objects is prints, she said. While the collection is quite strong in 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century European and American prints and Japanese woodblock prints, prints from the 15th through 17th centuries are not well-represented. Warren said artists in later periods often respond to the work and techniques of earlier artists, and adding more Old Master prints such as the Durer engraving will enhance the museum’s ability to demonstrate the history of printmaking.
Warren attended the IFPDA Print Fair in late October to select the artwork and to accept the prize on behalf of the museum. The print will be part of an exhibition in 2019 tentatively titled “The Sacred and Supernatural in Early Modern Prints” that will feature otherworldly images – holy figures, gods and goddesses, and witches. Once the process for adding this print to the museum’s collection is complete, it will be available to view online. In the meantime, the public can access other works on paper in the KAM collection through the museum website.