“Nature holds the beautiful, for the artist who has the insight to extract it. Thus, beauty lies even in humble, perhaps ugly things, and the ideal, which bypasses or improves on nature, may not be truly beautiful in the end.”
Young Hare, a watercolor and body color work from 1502 painted by Albrecht Dürer, is one of the most recognized and beloved works in the history of art. It is not a still life, nor is it a depiction of a dead animal as seen in many other works from that era. Dürer stepped away from the traditional Renaissance genres and created an extraordinary realistic representation of quite an ordinary animal. The image doesn’t contain symbolism that could have been of any virtue to Dürer or his contemporaries; neither is the hare referencing religious or mythological subject matter. The animal is depicted absolutely independently – a young hare just as it is.
The hare’s body is under painted and then plotted with wide brushstrokes, while individual hairs are executed with a greater variety of tones and delicate brushwork. The texture is so masterfully built up that you can almost feel the texture of the fur. Pay attention to hare’s ears perked up – another detail bringing the animal to life. Finally, the whiskers, claws and the reflection in the animal’s pupil bring the image to completion (or should we say perfection!)
It wasn’t until the 17th century that animals became a recognized genre in painting. In other words, very few artists addressed it until then, as many thought it couldn’t fully convey their artistic vision to public. Dürer was among the first artists to view animals as a subject that is actually worth attention and examination. The natural world and the fundamental truths it disguised captivated him and he probably created many of these images for pure enjoyment and out of curiosity. It was during the age of discoveries, when explorers were returning from distant lands to Europe bringing examples and illustrations of new species, sprucing interest in the world of animals and plants, both exotic and local. Young Hare and Durer’s other numerous paintings, drawings, sketches and prints, all demonstrate appreciation of fine detail and capture the structure and texture of a wide range of animals.
The painting’s German title translates as “Field Hare” and the work is often referred to in English as the Hare or Wild Hare. The Albertina alternates storing and displaying The Hare each decade. and while it is currently on display the Feldhase (German) will soon be removed from view for preservation.
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