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The Large Piece of Turf

The Large Piece of Turf

Albrecht Dürer, The Large Piece of Turf, 1503. Watercolor, 41 x 31.5 cm. Vienna, Graphische Sammlung Albertina, inv. no. 40-13-02/39.

Dürer invites viewers to penetrate this bush of greenery from the low vantage point of a small animal. The density of the overlapping stems of the plants is an accurate portrayal of how a patch of living organs appears at the edge of a swampy area. The artist’s keen eye for observation enabled him to depict every blade of grass and plant with vivacious detail. Dürer manipulates the use of light in this image. He darkens the middle of the piece of turf while highlighting the light green plant towards the right bottom corner, revealing the individual characteristics of leafs, weeds, and dandelions. Additionally, Dürer defines all of the plants with fine brushstrokes. Dürer employs gouache to illustrate the soil and earth at the bottom of the watercolor, grounding the plants in a physical space.

In comparison to works by other artists at the time, in which natural elements appear to be pasted on the surface of the art objects (i.e. the flowers and plants in Hans Pleydenwurff’s Saint Thomas Aquinas), the plants in The Large Piece of Turf come alive as though they truly are organs from our world. Dürer’s ingenuity has led him to design a vegetal, outdoor still life that ultimately has no precedence in visual illustrations. He creates a self-sufficient work of art by focusing on a motif that his predecessors had regarded as only being an accessory to larger works of art.