Journal ARS 53 (2020) 2

Przemysław Waszak

The Sea and Sea Creatures in the Art and Sources of the Middle Ages. Comparative Analysis of the Copperplate „Sea Monster“ by Albrecht Dürer Dated to the 1498


The article concentrates on showing elements present in culture, literature and art of the Middle Ages. These parts of mediaeval culture are discernible in Albrecht Dürer’s graphic The Sea Monster, also known as the Wonder of the Sea. It was created by late Gothic-Renaissance author living at the turning point of both artistic epochs. The article consists of a description of the copperplate engraving, discussion on the contexts present in literature and mediaeval sources, analogies of artistic motifs and symbolic contents, meanings of the title which was already mentioned by Dürer. The deliberations show the world of monsters, hybrids, sea-monsters known from sources long before the creation of this engraving. Depictions of hybrids and other mentioned creatures were widely used earlier for example in the Early Christian art, Merovingian art, Romanesque art. Examples from these epochs are quoted. Especially important are moralistic mentions of sea hybrids in the literary works of Heinrich Seuse, a 14th century prolific theologian and exponent of Rhineland mysticism. His statements can serve as a good example of commonly known practices. There are also discussed ways of perceiving art and its fantastic and fabulous world both in earlier examples and in the statements of a 19th century artist. This comparison shows what is constant in art regardles of epoch and what changes during the long period of artistic development. The questions of relation of art to nature were discussed, too. The analysis of the world depicted on the print shows a community of plots and motifs which appear in the works of art of different techniques, epochs and artistic regions. Gothic man of letters and artists, for example illuminators, engravers created their own marine world. Their aim was to teach and instruct the reader, add colour to their visual works of art or to their verbal statements. Graphic artists draw their motifs from the artistic achievements of other fields of arts and knowledge.