National Gallery, London
The Nuremberg artist’s revelatory experiences in Italy and beyond, which transformed the Renaissance, should have made a thrilling show. What went wrong?
In Albrecht Dürer’s print The Sea Monster, a woman lies, quite happy with her lot, on the back of a bizarre beast as he swims away with her. He has a scaly body, bearded human face and antlers. Wearing nothing much but a necklace, she rests her hand on her curvaceous hip as she watches the people screaming from shore, in front of a fairytale castle on a craggy hill.
It is weird and it is wonderful. It also captures exactly what the National Gallery’s foray into Dürer’s wanderlust is about – or would be if it worked. When Dürer engraved this, in about 1498, he was eagerly assimilating what he’d seen on his first visit to Italy a few years earlier. Born in Nuremberg in 1471, the son of a goldsmith, Albrecht had barely begun his career when he set off across the Alps for Venice.