Artistic treasures from Nuremberg

American art lovers are in for a very special treat: the opportunity to see more than 270 of the outstanding artistic treasures produced in the German city of Nuremberg between the years 1300 and 1550. These assorted paintings, sculptures, tapestries, metalwork, and illuminated manuscripts are on loan from public and private collections in Europe and the United States. They include masterworks by Albrecht D"urer and other important painters and printmakers; Gothic monumental sculpture as well as smaller but equally rare pieces on extraordinary loan from the churches of Nuremberg; the ``Nuremberg Chronicle,'' the most extensively illustrated, early printed book; and several magnificent sculptures by Adam Kraft and Veit Stoss.

All this and much more can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum here, thanks to William D. Wixom, chairman of the Metropolitan's department of medieval art, who organized the show in collaboration with Rainer Kahsnitz of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. Their efforts have produced a truly remarkable exhibition. According to Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan, ``never before has such a constellation of major medieval and Renaissance objects been permitted to leave Germany for exhibition in the US.

``This event provides the American public with a unique opportunity to view works of art not well represented in American museums. The period from the 14th to the mid-16th century was a pivotal time for Nuremberg, during which it evolved from an important but artistically self-contained Late Gothic town to a Renaissance city whose artistic, humanistic, technological, and scientific endeavors were of far-reaching consequence.''

Appropriately enough, the show is arranged chronologically in the museum's two-tiered Robert Lehman Wing. It begins with a bang with several superb examples of Late Gothic monumental sculpture, rare panel paintings, and tapestries, moves through an astonishing number of powerful and exquisite works in almost every conceivable medium, and reaches its climax -- to my eyes at least -- in a section devoted to the paintings, prints, watercolors, and drawings of D"urer.

Coming upon these smallish works is pure enchantment, though the prints may be thoroughly familiar to us and though everything else of his on view comes as no surprise. The sheer genius of the man, his extraordinary draftsmanship and open-mindedness -- to say nothing of the freshness of his vision -- are laid out almost casually for us to relish.

His ``Study for the Robe of Christ'' (on loan from the Louvre), ``Woman in Netherlandish Dress,'' and the tiny but awesomely alive watercolor, ``Primroses,'' would themselves make a trip to this exhibition a noteworthy event. And the sight of the three great engravings of 1513 and 1514 hanging side by side is something not easily forgotten -- no matter how often we might have seen ``Knight, Death and Devil,'' ``Melancholia I,'' and ``St. Jerome in His Study'' individually or even have held them in our hands.

Perhaps I'm being unfair, singling D"urer out like this, especially since this exhibition is so rich in rare and outstanding pieces. And yet, D"urer was Nuremberg's greatest artist, the painter/engraver who, more than any other, incorporated the discoveries of the Italian Renaissance into German art and thus helped lift the painting and printmaking of his native city from regional to international significance.

At the Metropolitan Museum through June 22. Early abstraction traced in American printmaking

Considering the Metropolitan's size and importance, a ``perfect little show'' is about the last thing one would expect to find there. However, that is exactly what ``In Pursuit of Abstraction: American Prints 1930-1950'' turns out to be. Organized by David Kiehl, and limited to prints owned by the museum, this small but remarkably inclusive selection of 76 graphic works does an excel lent job of tracing the rise and early flowering of abstraction in American printmaking.

It begins with an introductory section covering the years 1913-1929, that includes important examples by John Marin, Arthur B. Davies, Charles Sheeler, and several others. There is also an impression of John Sloan's only abstract print, which he had intended merely as an antimodernist comment, but which turned out to be a successful etching nevertheless. From there the show moves through the 1930s, the decade during which more and more Americans began to see the merits of abstraction, and into the 1940s, the era of Stanley William Hayter's ``Atelier 17,'' and an increasing emphasis on large, bold, strictly nonrepresentational graphic images.

There are particularly fine examples by Ian Hugo, Fred Becker, Stuart Davis, and Kurt Seligmann, but nothing surpasses Anne Ryan's two colored woodcuts printed on black paper. If any prints exist that could convince a die-hard antimodernist that art need not be ``realistic,'' it would be these.

At the Metropolitan's Galleries for Drawings, Prints, and Photographs through May 4.

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