The Large Piece of Turf

Albrecht Durer’s “The Large Piece of Turf” features a chunk of soil and weeds that could just as easily have been dug up from the vacant lot down the street from me (here in 2012) as from the German meadow that likely inspired Durer hundreds of years ago.

Painted in 1503, “Turf” was actually one of the very first naturalistic renderings of nature (that sounds weird) in Europe.  Up to that point, botanical artwork was either decorative or illustrative — in both cases the plants were overly stylized and not necessarily very natural looking.

So this iconic painting of Durer’s, this gorgeous depiction of humble plants such as plantain and dandelion, was groundbreaking not only for its technical skill but also for its style.  (Oh, I didn’t just know all this by the way…I just read about it in the nifty book Weeds, by Richard Mabey.)

And here’s a really cool little animation of this painting I found on Vimeo.  It’s only a minute long:

10 thoughts on “The Large Piece of Turf

  1. I have admired this piece since first seeing it. It tells me that one can find great beauty and complexity in just a small slice of nature, and it often lies right at your feet.

  2. Holy cow, I can’t believe that was painted in 1503! I’m no art history major, but that does seems way ahead of the times. I’d love to know how this work was received by his peers. It’s beautiful, by the way, quite a departure from his religious paintings and portraits. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Julie, isn’t it mind boggling to think that the painting is that old? The only other piece of his I was familiar with was his famous painting of the Hare. I’m less familiar with the religious pieces…I’ll have to look them up.

  4. Durer lived in a time when apprenticeship was required before the ‘art’ was made.
    “There is no substitute for fine craft; we can have craft without art, but not art without craft”
    Ansel Adams

    And that also applies to gardens. . .

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