Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance

Cranach: Cupid complaining to Venus

(National Gallery, London, until 11 May 2014)

If forewarned is forearmed, then I went to this exhibition fully armed with the mixed (and sometimes frankly baffled) reactions of friends and colleagues. The National Gallery are clearly trying to do something slightly different in this show, and the ambition itself is commendable, but they just don’t quite pull it off. The key distinction I’m going to have to make in this post is between the works on show, which were indeed beautiful, and the concept of the exhibition itself, which seems to skip confusingly between several different driving themes.

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The Young Dürer: Drawing the Figure

Dürer: A Wise Virgin

(Courtauld Gallery, London, until 12 January 2013)

In 1490 the nineteen-year-old Albrecht Dürer left his native Nuremberg and set off on his Wanderjahre, effectively the equivalent of an extended gap year for a Renaissance German artist. He had completed his apprenticeship with the painter Michael Wolgemut but, before setting up as a master in his own right, he wanted to spend some time travelling in Germany and studying in artistic centres other than Nuremberg. His trip would turn into a four-year journey, during which he even made a pilgrimage to Colmar in the hope of learning at the feet of his hero Martin Schongauer; only to find that Schongauer had died the previous year.

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