Martyrdom of Saint Catherine
39 cm x 28.7 cm (15 3/8 in. x 11 5/16 in.)
(Nuremberg, Germany, 1471 - 1528, Nuremberg, Germany)
Medium and Support:
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Purchase through the generosity of the Still Water Foundation, 1995
The Martyrdom of Saint Catherine combines the stages of the saint’s execution: a first attempt with a spiked wheel, its thwarting by divine intervention, and a second, successful attempt at the hand of a swordsman. Albrecht Dürer crowded the composition with an extraordinary amount of information. He missed no opportunity for conspicuous invention, from the exploding heavens to the splendid executioner, and boasted an unprecedented variety of mark and complexity of effect. Prior to Dürer’s activity, woodcut had been bound by simple conventions and popular functions. Flush with creative as well as commercial ambition, the young artist applied his singular imagination and audacious skill to the technique, single-handedly elevating it to the level of high art. The success of such woodcuts spread Dürer’s compositions and fame across Europe. He went on to explore possibilities of the medium––first pictorial, then schematic, and finally abstract. These experiments would dominate sixteenth-century production and, long after woodcut had returned to its basic tendencies, remain the measure of artistic achievement in the medium. Woodcut, however, was by no means Dürer’s primary graphic technique. His command of the burin, an engraving tool, is masterful and the focus and detail in his engravings approach hyperrealism. The museum houses over 38 etchings, engravings, and woodcuts by the Northern Renaissance master, offering an opportunity to observe the scope of Dürer’s expertise in the graphic arts.