Friday, August 01, 2008

Have You Met the High Dorfer?

I like to bring my recent discoveries to the Last House and share them around. I was reading a back issue of the New York Review of Books just now and the article (can’t think what it was about now) was illustrated by this amazing painting of St. George and the Dragon. Despite the title, the main subject seems to be this intense and overwhelming green forest. It was painted by an artist named Albrecht Altdorfer in 1510. The Wikimedia image above doesn't look nearly as vibrant as the NYRB version but it was the best I can do until I get to Munich to get my own photo. (And let's not hold our breath for that). This painting evoked for me the feeling that my own walks through the Vermont forests bring. (No dragons or knights here but I have been worried a lot lately about bears and even catamounts - and it is so very Green here right now).

I suppose Albrecht Altdorfer is someone I should have heard of by now. Hmm. I wonder how that name translates. I don’t know German but I know “Alt” means “high”; [N.B. - Click on the comments below to find out how I was wrong about this translation. Don't believe everything you read on the internet.] so, “high dorfer”… I should be able to remember that.

Anyway, in about 30 seconds online I learned that he was born in 1480 in Germany near a Regensberg and that he was a contemporary of that more famous “Albrecht,” Albrecht Durer. I also learned that the High Dorfer is regarded as a pioneer of landscape in art. I guess we can all see why.

And look at this amazing image – like a movie poster from a super-heated medieval (OK, early northern Renaissance) imagination.

The Battle of Alexander by Albrecht Altdorfer (1529) Wood, 158,4 x 120,3 cm Alte Pinakothek, Munich


R. Sherman said...

I hate to sound all "high-falutin,'" but alt means "old" in German. A dorf is a small village and the -er can be a described as, "one who is" so an Altdorfer is an "old villager" in the sense of one whose family has been there for a long time.

See, this is what two degrees in German Language and Literature get you.

BTW, my wife was born in Regensburg. It's a beautiful city with a tremendous medieval city center. For my money, and I know I'm biased, it's a much better place to visit for the feel of "real Germany/Bavaria" than Munich, which was pretty much destroyed during the war. Regensburg was untouched and has buildings dating back to 1100 A.D.


KSV Woolfoot said...

Hey R - I thought you were on vacation. Do I ever feel like a doofus. Is that German? It comes back to me, I think, that "Hoch" or something like that, means "high". I knew someone named Hochwald once who told me it meant "high wood." Thanks for the correction. Old Villager... Like me sort of.

R. Sherman said...

I actually felt bad about this comment.

BTW, in Regensburg, there is an "Albrecht Altdorfer Gymnasium" which is a university track high school.

In other words, "Pedantry, thy name is a German degree."


KSV Woolfoot said...

Really, don't feel bad. I am glad you corrected this. Also, I am not so thin-skinned to mind. Great - not pedantic. Herr docteur professor!

Philip Wilkinson said...

In his wonderful book A Time of Gifts the British writer Patrick Leigh Fermor has a wonderful passage on southern German Renaissance painting, especially Cranach, the troubled Grünewald, and Altdorfer. He lovingly describes the full-of-life landscape backgrounds in a lot of these paintings. He also observes how, because of the travel routes (the Rhine to Flanders and the Brenner Pass and Adige to Verona) southern German artists could find nourishing influences in both Flemish and Italian painting.