SYMBOLIC SPACE

In many of his works Dürer strove to create the illusion of three-dimensional space, choosing different compositional devices for a variety of narrative goals. This interest in carving out perspectival space is manifested in his 1511 series The Life of the Virgin and other woodcuts made during the same period. These works chronicle the life of Mary, from the courtship of her parents to her assumption into heaven. The narratives unfold in architectural and landscape settings, which serve to frame the action and heighten its subdued drama. The interplay between outside and inside, inclusion and exclusion, and heaven and earth are key to understanding the events that unfold within these invented spaces. Unlike the highly emotive and chaotic compositions of the Apocalypse woodcuts, these are calm, contemplative, earthbound, and uniformly static.

Albrecht Dürer, The Adoration of the Shepherds from The Life of the Virgin, c. 1504. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

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