At the time this was painted in 1503, there was no way Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) could have known the impact that this image would have on future generations of artists. What is most remarkable, beyond Durer’s obvious mastery in technique, is his choice of subject matter and point of view. Here he focuses on what many would consider an unremarkable clump of weeds, hardly worthy of attention. And yet, by bringing the viewer down low into grasses, he shows us the spectacular world that is at our feet. I especially like how he’s cleared away the soil to reveal the complex root system below.
On occasion I’ll run into people who will comment on how boring Ontario is and how there’s nothing to see. I suggest that they stop looking for the obviously picturesque; the snow-capped mountains or silky waterfalls, and instead, look down. That’s probably the most important lesson we can all learn from this timeless masterpiece, that no matter where you may live, there are small worlds full of wonder just waiting to be discovered. All we need to do is slow down and take a closer look.
The Great Piece of Turf, 16 x 12.5 inches, 1503, watercolour and gouache on vellum