“The fact that I’ve ended up with a chance to curate this work here at IU, and as a student, is just unspeakably fantastic." - Leah Marie Chizek
MA candidate explores IU collection connections
Photos on this page courtesy of Shanti Knight, Photographer for the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art
What do you get when you combine a motivated IU graduate student, a Lilly Library collection of exceptionally rare woodcuts, and a collaborative art museum, recently renovated to increase exhibition? Visit the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art exhibition Albrecht Dürer: Apocalypse and Other Masterworks from Indiana University Collections now through December 2021 to find out.
Utilizing museum holdings not previously exhibited, along with pieces from the Lilly Library, MA candidate Leah Marie Chizek curated a mesmerizing display of woodcuts, engravings, and etchings of Albrecht Dürer under the tutelage of Nanette Brewer, the Eskenazi Museum of Art's Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper, and in collaboration with Jim Canary, Lilly Library Conservator.
The origination of the exhibition
“The show evolved out of truly fortuitous circumstances," says Leah. Seeking dual degrees in art history and library science, Leah is a graduate assistant in the department of prints, drawings, and photographs at the Eskenazi Museum of Art. When she was brought onboard in 2018, Leah was already familiar with Dürer, explaining, “Apocalypse was really my first introduction to Dürer, when I was working my first museum job and before I decided to return to graduate school and pursue art history.”
Leah discovered the depth of Lilly Library holdings in this area, including some milestone works like Dürer's Apocalypse. Its 15 woodcuts envisioning the biblical end of the world was the work that made him famous. Not only is the book rare, the Lilly Library’s copy is exceptional given that it is intact. Books of such quality were often sold piecemeal in the past to make money.
“The Lilly is incredibly fortunate to have a complete original set that was never broken, although it has been rebound over the years,” Leah says.
Though the Lilly Library’s copy is bound, during the 2020 renovation of the Library, Apocalypse was scheduled to be sent for conservation. Leah explains, “We started to realize that would be a perfect time to show it: it would be freshly conserved, still disbound, and available to showcase as one the Lilly's major highlights even while the Library itself was still closed.”
Despite the pandemic, things simply fell together. In fact, the recently renovated art museum offered a brand new gallery space dedicated to print exhibitions. Leah marvels, “The fact the Lilly had so many more books, and books with illustrations by Dürer, only solidified our thoughts that a Dürer show, using works from both the Eskenazi and the Lilly would be an excellent prospect.”
The exhibition materials from Lilly Library
The show features six books connected to Dürer in some way, with the Apocalypse serving as the centerpiece. It is a first Latin edition, published in 1498. Leah shares that another rare book, Instruction in Measurement, is "both written and illustrated by Dürer himself, who published several treatises on geometry toward the end of his life.” Yet another included item is an album used to represent modern nineteenth-century collecting practices. It contains all 36 woodcuts from one of Dürer’s series, The Small Passion.
In addition, there are a few books by esteemed writers that Dürer illustrated with woodcuts. The Lilly Library also loaned its copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle. This is a famous illustrated book from 1493 that surely influenced Dürer. As the oldest artifact in the exhibition, it is both fragile and large with around 1800 woodcut illustrations made from 645 different designs.
Dürer’s Apocalypse and the Lilly Library staff
The Apocalypse holds special meaning for Leah. When pressed, she names it as a favorite work in the exhibition. She says, “Dürer made woodcuts for this series that were so sophisticated and so spellbinding, it’s hard for us to understand today just how unprecedented they were. Until then, no one had managed to render images this complex in woodcut. It’s amazing, and they are beautiful if occasionally terrifying.” Interestingly, she mentions that times were uncertain in the late 1400s just as they are now, saying, “It’s also bit uncanny, too, how his theme—Apocalypse—sort of speaks to our current moment in this country.”
Leah is grateful for such an opportunity during a fractious and unsettled time. “The Lilly Library staff were incredibly generous throughout this whole process,” she comments. “They really entrusted us to pick what worked best, and to do the research and decide how best to exhibit individual items. Conservator Jim Canary was especially helpful with suggestions, and of course, with getting the works ready for actual display.”
Thankful to be able to work with Apocalypse, she adds, “The fact that I’ve ended up with a chance to curate this work here at IU, and as a student, is just unspeakably fantastic.