Yet more drawings from the wondrous Albrecht Dürer show at the National Gallery in Washington. Dürer was in at the birth of Western realism’s full complexity and potential, and he works away at all of its classic stratagems.
In his drawing of a rare black man in Renaissance Europe, he conjugates realism as “verism”, by presenting the exotic and unusual as somehow more real than the day-to-day or the ideal. The drawing looks more strikingly modern than anything else in the show – maybe because we moderns feel we “own” issues of race more than any other period has. In his peculiar drawing of a man – his brother – turned almost fully away, Dürer plays on the notion, standard in art’s rhetorics of realism, that the accidental and casual somehow counts as more “real” than the planned and the posed. Logically, that’s not particularly cogent – but realism works its magic on us by making all of its conceits, however unlikely, seem natural, even necessary.
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