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Albert and the Whale [9780008323295]

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An illuminating exploration of the intersection between life, art and the sea from the award-winning author of Leviathan, or The Whale.

In 1520, Albrecht Durer, the most celebrated artist in Northern Europe, sailed to Zeeland to see a whale. As the cynosure of the Renaissance, no one had painted or drawn the world like him. He had drew a hare or a rhinoceros in the way he painted saints and madonnas. They were all one and the same to him: the wing of a bird or the wing of an angel; a spider crab or a bursting star like the augury of a black hole, they were part of a connected world. Everything had meaning.

But now he was in crisis. He had lost his patron, the Holy Roman Emperor. He was in his late middle age. He was still a journeyman, a wanderer. In the shape of the whale, he saw his future. A final ambition. An ultimate connection.

Durer was the first artist to truly employ the power of reproduction. He reinvented the way people looked at, and had access to, art. He painted signs and wonders; comets, devils, horses, nudes, dogs, blades of grass so accurately that even today they seem hyper-real, utterly modern images. Most startling and most modern of all, he painted himself, at every stage of his life.

But he also painted states of mind. Durer's engraving, Melencolia I, remains one of the most cryptic works of art ever created. Its genderless angel seems to contemplate its own existential self. The melancholy of the modern world is predicted and invested in this one extraordinary and still unexplained image.

Albert and the Whale, explores the work of this remarkable man, through a personal lens. Drawing on Philip's experience of the natural world, and of the elements that shape our contemporary lives, from suburbia to the wide open sea, Philip will enter Durer's time machine. As the radical modern philosophy, Tim Morton says, 'Art is from the future'. Morton speaks of a new way in which we must see the natural world, as dark nature, in this, our new age of the Anthropocene, of the Sixth Extinction.


Philip Hoare is the author of eight works of non-fiction, including Leviathan or, The Whale, which won the 2009 Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. Hoare is also an experienced broadcaster, a Visiting Fellow at Southampton University, and Leverhulme Artist-in-residence at The Marine Institute, Plymouth University, which awarded him an honourary doctorate in 2011. He lives in Southampton.

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Philip Hoare
Fourth Estate Ltd
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400 Grams
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    Albert and the Whale by Philip Hoare

    Posted by Ignorant Bystander on 3rd Apr 2021

    The newspaper reviews glow with praise, but prepare for disappointment. The hardback is not a hardback at all; it's just a paperback with a layer of flimsy card added front and back. The paper is cheap paperback paper which will discolour and doesn't reproduce the illustrations at all well. I'll probably end up buying a decent hardback edition if one becomes available.

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