Sep 19, 2011

PROFILE | Gerhard Richter | History is Now

Gerhard Richter, Annunciation after Titian, 1973 AD, Germany

Contemporary artist, Gerhard Richter, stands alone as a man of paint and pen, in a world full of performance and sculpture. His passion lies in making things beautiful in a dark world.  His talent stretches beyond paints as he has pure talent in the world of glass, light and color. His website - -illuminates his light in the dark.

Richter was born in 1932 in Germany to a middle class home. His family had ties to the Nazi movement, both as supporters and victims. Several relatives were soldiers under Hitler’s reign, while another family member, who suffered from mental disease, was sent to the death camp to see her fate. It was because of the horrible obscurity and strain that he hated ideologies of all kinds, and rejected them vehemently. This is apparent in many of his early works.

Gerhard Richter is known for his affinity for the beauty that was displayed in historical works of art from the 16th Century Italian Renaissance and other such works from the period.

Gerhard Richter
In an interview with The City Review, Richter is cited for copying Titian's Annunciation. Richter's work called, Annunciation after Titian, (1973, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.), is the first of five versions of an original series. 

In an interview conducted by Michele LeightRichter responds to a question about his work closely resembling that of Titian: "simply because I liked [it] so much and thought I'd like to have that for myself. To start with I only meant to make a copy, so that I could have a beautiful painting at home and with it a piece of that period, all that potential beauty and sublimity." Of course, the copy "went wrong," and Richter concluded that it could not be done anymore, not even as a copy. Perhaps the "failure" was planned, a demonstration of the impossibility of reviving the paintings of the "glorious dead." His open admiration resulted in his desire to introduce similar qualities in his own art. (The City Review)

To compare the work from Titian, (created between the years 1559 and 1564 in Italy) and the work from Contemporary artist Gerhard Richter (completed in the year 1973) is not a difficult task. As anyone can see, the two works are strikingly similar. What strikes me as a viewer, as well as an Italian Renaissance lover, is the appreciation that Richter as an artist clearly has for the Renaissance master. The two works share the same color palate, the same composition, and the same figures. The messages, however, are vastly different.
Titian, Annunciation, 1559-1564, Italy

Yes, Richters is dull and muted, and no it is not as crisp as the original. But they served two different purposes.  While Titian was under commission to create his work for The Church, Richter wanted a thing of beauty to have for his own. 

True, it was an attempt at a copy for his own viewing pleasure, the whole “failure” to re-create the vision precisely was what lead to the series of Titian-style works and an entire series dedicated to the Annunciation.

Reading Richter’s own words about the works provides interesting insight into the man behind the paintbrush. When talking about history and the history of art, he says
Because there's something about this painting, or any painting, that grabs me if they're good – irrespective of the impact they had at the time, why they were made, the story behind them. I don't know what motivated the artist, which means that the paintings have an intrinsic quality. I think Goethe called it the 'essential dimension', the thing that makes great works of art great. (
Gerhard Richter is a man of greath breadth and depth when it comes to his talent. He isn't just a one note wonder. If you go to his site,, you can see that he not only commands the medium and style discussed with great confidence, but his abstract works provide great intellectual thought, and his stained glass window, commissioned to replace the South end of the Cologne Cathedral (the original was destroyed in World War II) even earned him an award, while also bringing him back to his heratige, and the 
ideologies he hated most.  

- Katie Lewis


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