Albert and the Whale: Albrecht Dürer and How Art Imagines Our World
by Philip Hoare Pegasus Books, NY, 2021, 304 pages.
There is some achingly beautiful writing here. I will read anything about Durer and the sections about Durer’s life and work are wonderful. Other parts seem to be very personal digressions. On several occasions the narrative stops so that the author can take a swim in a harbor, river, pond, or fountain. David Bowie is referenced obliquely several times as the starmen. I have no clue what the starmen has to do with Durer.
There are wonderful descriptions of dogs. O.K., Durer did love dogs. Musings on the poet Marianne Moore’s bed partners and her move from Greenwich Village to Brooklyn struck me as odd. After several pages we learn Moore wrote poetry about Durer and whales. Durer’s face is described as a face on a train, though there were no trains in Durer’s time. My loss, but I have never seen anyone who looked remotely like Durer on a train, even been on a train in Nuremberg.
Speaking of dogs, there is a legend that Durer’s dog saw his master’s self-portrait and licked the face on the canvas.
Hoare declines to use quotation marks. It is hard to tell if he is paraphrasing or musing on what he imagines an individual might have said. I know Durer loved typography, but the typography here is peculiar. The text changes fonts when referring to the city of LA. “LA” is several points smaller than the words in the sentence leading up to it.
This book will be released in paperback this year. The hardcover edition has many welcome illustrations throughout. The illustrations help to explain details in the text. The black and white printing is fuzzy, even as Hoare rightly praises the extraordinary precision of Durer’s prints. The 8 pages of color plates at the end of the book are nicely printed. They are referenced in the text by plate numbers, yet are printed without captions or numbers.
Despite my misgivings about the digressions, I look forward to reading more by Philip Hoare. To give an idea of his writing style – here he is describing his aged and beloved pet dog, Tangle: “That summer he struggled to keep up with the young dog inside of him, the dog he knew, the dog beneath my skin. He led us through the woods hung with moss to a shallow pool and gently lowered his body. We heard him sigh.”
It is true pleasure to read such evocative prose. I just wish more of the prose had evoked Albrecht Durer.
View all my reviews