Great Piece of Turf by Albrecht Durer
Interpretation of German Renaissance Watercolour Nature Study

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Great Piece of Turf
By Albrecht Durer.
Considered to be one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

Great Piece of Turf (1503)


Interpretation of Northern Renaissance Paintings


Name: "Great Piece of Turf"
Date: 1503
Artist: Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)
Medium: Watercolour painting
Genre: Still life nature study
Movement: Northern Renaissance art
Location: Albertina, Vienna

For analysis and explanation of other important pictures from the Renaissance, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).

For analysis of landscape
paintings by other German
Renaissance artists
like Durer, see
our educational articles:
Art Evaluation and
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Analysis of Great Piece of Turf by Albrecht Durer

Albrecht Durer ranks among the top Old Masters of the Northern Renaissance and is undoubtedly the greatest artist of the German Renaissance (1430-1580). An expert in printmaking as well as painting, much of his work is a unique synthesis of Northern eye for detail allied to Italian humanism and disegno. One of his most individual attributes was a love of landscape painting combined with a fascination with nature and animals. In 1490, in accordance with guild custom, Durer began four years of educational travel - known, in Germany as Wanderjahre. This included a visit to Colmar to study woodcuts under George Schongauer. In 1494 he was back in Nuremberg long enough to get married before setting off again, this time to study Renaissance art in Italy. Stopping off in Venice, Mantua, Padua, Cremona and elsewhere, he became the first German artist to seek artistic education in Italy rather than the Netherlands, and one of the first Nothern Renaissance artists to absorb the principles of the Italian Renaissance in situ. During his travels, he completed numerous nature studies as well as landscapes, the results of which can be seen in the Albertina, Vienna; the Kunstsammlungen, Basel and the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin. The studies he did also served as the basis for his later watercolours A Young Hare (1502, Albertina) and A Great Piece of Turf.

Durer completed Great Piece of Turf in 1503 at his studio in Nuremberg. One of his most realistic nature studies, almost certainly based on meticulous observation of nature, it is an artfully contrived snapshot of an apparently random group of wild plants. These include cock's-foot, creeping bent, daisy, dandelion, greater plantain, hound's-tongue, meadow-grass and yarrow. Combining botanical chaos and disarray, with the precise detail of each individual plant, all highlighted for greatest effect against a blank background - it is a perfectly conceived, continuous and inextricable "slice of nature". A printed illustration might provide us with something similar but Durer depicts the unique reality of each blade and stem, each leaf and flower of each species. And although each shrub is clearly identifiable, the painting remains a clump of living undergrowth.

Even so, unlike his Young Hare - an independently valuable work in its own right - Great Piece of Turf was more of a functional study, designed to assist Durer in the creation of his other larger works, such as the engraving entitled Adam and Eve (1504).

NOTE: Durer is also noted for his innovative, experimental self-portraits. See, for instance, Self Portrait with Fur Collar (1500)

Interpretation of Northern Renaissance Paintings

Here is our analysis of some of the greatest paintings of the Netherlandish and German schools.

Ghent Altarpiece (1425-32) St Bavo Cathedral, Ghent.
By Jan Van Eyck.

Merode Altarpiece (c.1425) Metropolitan Museum of Art NY.
By Robert Campin.

Portinari Altarpiece (1476-9) Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
By Hugo van der Goes.

Donne Triptych (1477-80) National Gallery, London.
By Hans Memling.

Isenheim Altarpiece (1515) Unterlinden Museum, Colmar.
By Matthias Grunewald.


• For the meaning of other landscape studies, see: Homepage.

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