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In 1520, Albrecht Dürer, the most celebrated artist in Northern Europe, sailed to Zeeland to see a whale. A central figure of the Renaissance, no one had painted or drawn the world like him. Dürer drew hares and rhinoceroses in the way he painted saints and madonnas. 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, in Dürer's art, 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 moorless and filled with wanderlust. In the shape of the whale, he saw his final ambition. Dürer was the first artist to truly employ the power of reproduction. He reinvented the way people looked at, and understood, art. He painted signs and wonders; comets, devils, horses, nudes, dogs, and blades of grass so accurately that even today they seem hyper-real, utterly modern images.



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