Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) more than left his mark upon the age; in many ways, he exceeded it. While art historians tend to remember him for his extravagant altar paintings, or for elevating engravings to the level of fine art, historians of science honor him for his watercolors,

the first botanical masterpieces, clearly intended as paintings in their own right and outstanding in their detail. Dürer was the first artist to take a piece of nature, draw it as faithfully as he could and produce a work of art. He stated his own philosophy with some force: ‘…Study nature diligently. Be guided by nature and do not depart from it, thinking that you can do better yourself. You will be misguided, for truly art is hidden in nature and he who can draw it out possesses it.’

…The most famous of Dürer’s botanical pictures is Das Gross Rasenstück, which is, as its name indicates, a large piece of turf – a detailed study of meadow grasses and dandelions on a dull day, growing up out of the brown earth. The dandelion flowers are closed, the grasses not yet in full flower; every detail is true.

(Martyn Rix, The Art of Botanical Illustration, Arch Cape Press, 1990)

This morning, it occurred to me to search for a new background for the start screen on my computer, replacing a soft-focus photo of towering trees and mist with – what else? – The Large Piece of Turf.

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