The Large Piece of Turf, Albrecht Dürer
Watercolor and gouache on paper mounted to board, roughly 16 x 12 inches (41 x 31 cm). Link is to zoomable version on Google Art Project; downloadable file on Wikimedia Commons; original is in the Albertina, Vienna.
For its small size and unassuming subject, this painting ranks among the most well known works in the history of art. In it, Dürer did not set out to create a work of art, but simply to study from an artist’s greatest teacher, nature.
And study he did. The painting is a marvel of clear, direct observation and painstakingly precise but naturalistic rendering.
In a clump of grass, weeds and leafy plants that few would consider worth a second glance, let alone hours of intense study, Dürer reveals a world of intricate plant forms, their shapes, colors and patterns of growth worthy of a dozen separate botanical illustrations.
The painting has been studied, copied, analyzed and even modeled in 3-D. Its plants have been identified and listed. Much has been made of the artist’s keen powers of observation. There is a Wikipedia page that may serve as a jumping off point for more about the painting.
This is the most famous of Dürer’s naturalistic and strikingly detailed studies of small bits of nature (unless you count his wondrous Hare, painted a year before and also in the Albertina).
In particular, I love the way he has painted the delicate tufts of the grasses, with the same attention one might give to the form of a great tree.
Though not directly related to the painting, I’m reminded of a quote from writer Henry Miller: “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself”