An Young And Old Woman From Bergen

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Dürer, An Young and Old Woman From Bergen, 1520
By MEGAN GANNON By now we kind of have a grasp on the Renaissance. We’ve examined Giotto, read our Baxandall, and admired Raphael so what comes next? Well, we have the Northern Renaissance a slightly less admired and beautiful movement but worthy of our time nonetheless. 

And don’t worry the North has own their share of the self-absorbed artists. In particular they have Albrecht Dürer, who when he painted his self-portrait compared his likeness to that of Christ...more than once.

The Northern Renaissance in many ways parallels that of Italy’s with the study of human proportion, geometry, perspective, and Greek and Roman influences. Although unlike in Italy between 1520 and the mid - 17th century the North fell victim to iconoclasm. This hatred of imagery led to the destruction of countless works of art and essential documents to the study of the works.

Often times on this blog we speak of color and composition and not the deeds that guarantee Botticelli did in fact paint Venus and Mars. Although it seems silly to belittle the importance of these documents. For instance according to Susy Nash in her article "Dispersal and Destruction," despite archives confirming 300 artists in Cologne between 1300-1500 none of the works discovered correlate to any of the artists (21).

Despite inadequate documentation, Northern Renaissance art still flourishes. Especially with pieces like An Young And Old Woman From Bergen, not the most glamorous name but Dürer imagery captures something often forgotten in Italy - aging.

Dürer’s juxtaposition of a young and old women references Ars Moriendi or the Art of Dying. The younger woman with her downcast eyes seems to be avoiding death while the older with her defiant gaze confronts death. The non-existent wrinkles on the young woman’s face hint at her inexperience, the life she has yet to live. While her counterpart with heavy lines around her eyes and mouth captures years of tears, smiles, frowns, and laughs that make up a long life.

I am completely captivated by this sketch. Perhaps because as a young woman it presents the future. I may lack the headscarf, but one day my nose will have lengthened and the lines in my face will run deep. Dürer celebrates this process by demonstrating that the older woman is just as beautiful as the younger one.

Often times we view age as the end of the road. We frantically search for the fountain of youth in anti-aging creams and powders. We ponder the benefits of starting a life anew. As Dürer puts it that it solely fantasy. For we have one life, one face, and with that face the lines, the scars, do not act as detractory factor, but as symbol of life.

To live a life in the preservation in beauty is not to live at all. Just ask Mrs. Dalloway.

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