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Dürer, the Large Piece of Turf

Albrecht Dürer, The Large Piece of Turf, 1503, watercolor and gouache on paper, 16-1/8 x 12-5/8 inches / 41 x 32 cm (Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Ari Mendelson
    This painting has a lot of green in it. I read in Paul Johnson's book "The Birth of the Modern" that Turner seldom used green in his plants (he instead used yellow) because he couldn't find a green that met with his approval. Could anybody tell me what the problem with green was back in the day? The green in this painting seems perfectly serviceable.
    (17 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user Amber
      Back then there were not as many colors as we have now. To have this many green would take a lot of mixing since they were not available strait from the tube. because of the limited colors that they had back then it would have been difficult to get a good green.
      (23 votes)
  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    Wow, just WOW! This incredible and to think that this could have been "composed" from the brilliant mind of Albrect Durer is even more amazing! Was this the first painting of any kind from any artist to show nature in isolation from any animal or human interaction?
    (4 votes)
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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user owlie345
    At Dr Harris says that Durer may have painted this from almost ground level viewpoint. Do we know for sure that he DID paint it from that viewpoint?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

(soft piano music) Man: I feel like I need to get down on my knees, actually even lower than my knees. I almost have to get down on my chest, have my chin on the ground, to really be able to look at this painting. Lady: That seems precisely what Durers view point was. I don't think I ever seen so many different colors of green. Man: We're looking at a great piece of turf by Albrecht Durer, the great German Renaissance Artist. It's a watercolor. It's not very large on paper. Lady: In our day, this may not seem so unusual when people take photograph of flowers, of nature, we're use to images like this. This was something really radical and new at the time to lavish this much intention on a very small piece of the natural world. Man: What a great expression of the Renaissance thinking. That is that the world that we live in and not the heavenly [route 0:52]. Our world even at its most minute presence just an unparallel display of beauty. Here we have an almost scientific investigation of just a small piece of turf. Lady: It's almost like a universe unto itself. There's so much for our eye, different kinds of leaves, different kinds of blades of grass, moving in different directions. Man: You can see that there are dandelions that have yet to unfurl. That's a relatively sallow space, he gives us what, maybe 24 inches in depth, but nevertheless, within that he does begin to work on it. For instance, look at the broad-leaved plants, close to the bottom. They grow up and their beautiful and diagonal. It unfolds almost as if the plant is growing over time. Nature at a moment in a specific place, that sense of specificity, makes this almost like a kind of enormously complex botanical study. Lady: Imagines the paint brush, it's pencil thin for the painting of those individual blades of grass. Man: It's also arbitrary as if he's just got down, as I said, on the ground and looked acorss and this is what was there. Lady: In other words, he could have found any area of a meadow, put himself down, and looked at this. Man: Well, it's interesting. Is it composed, or isn't it? It seems so uncomposed. Lady: It seems like he sat in a meadow, pulled out his paper, his watercolors, his drawing materials, and started to work. Man: In the Renaissance that's not what art is. Lady: They composed. They organize. Man: The question is, is this composed? Is this invention? Lady: Do you think this is composed? Man: I think it is. I think there is an attemt to achieve a kind of authenticity. I thinks he's done it brilliantly. He certainly chose what he was including, and what he wasn't including. Our eyes drawn from the bottom right, for instance, into the middle ground very slowly. There's so many weeds that we have to move through and around, nevertheless, there is also the sense of the arbitrary, and the sense of multiplicity, and the sense of just the richness of form, as you mentioned, of all of those greens. Lady: That's something that I think is very Northern Renaissance. This interest in multiplicity in variation, and the amount of time your eye can take to explore that variation. Man: This was made just at the beginning of the 16th century. Think about what's happening at that moment. Michelangelo was working on his David, and it'll be done in the next year. The moment where we generally think of the value of the body. Here we have an artist almost a scientist who is observing the world even that which we step on that we just stand most often. (soft piano music)