Between 1505 and 1507, Albrecht Dürer visited Italy, where he found fame and praise. He went back to Nuremberg in 1511 and completed a project that he had started fifteen years earlier. The Great Passion is a series of prints depicting Christ’s passion and death, realized in a large, monumental format. These prints are remarkable for the quality of details along with the exceptional dramatic effects that Dürer was able to display using such a difficult technique as the woodcuts.
The Great Passion: The Extraordinary Technique of Dürer
Figures showing strong emotional expressions enliven the scenes. Dürer introduced innovative elements to the subject of the Passion of Christ as interpreted in the Late Gothic depictions. During his career, five times Dürer worked on the subject, and left unfinished the sixth version of the Passion.
In the Great Passion, Dürer explored the pictorial potential of the chiaroscuro technique. Small and continuous lines juxtaposed to each other enhance the contrast between light and shadow. Dürer showed his exceptional mastery in these prints, in which the figures exhibit plastic volume, while the space is rendered with coherent depth.
The Original Edition of the Great Passion
The woodcuts were the result of a work that lasted a few years. The first seven cuts were made between 1497 and 1500. The complete edition of twelve cuts appeared in 1511, when Dürer published the prints along with a Latin poem on the passion of Christ and the life of the Virgin Mary written by Benedictus Chelidonius (1460-1521), a Benedictine theologian, abbot of the Scottish monastery at Vienna.
The prints preserved in the Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid depict the scenes of the Crown of Thorns, the Last Supper, Christ on the Mount of Olives, the Arrest of Christ, the famous Flagellation, and the Way to Calvary, the Crucifixion, and the Lamentation. All the scenes are signed and represent a dramatic and vivid interpretation of the Passion of Christ.