Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564) and Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) were contemporaries, though Michelangelo had a much longer life. Both are titans in the annals of Western art. But, as two enlightening exhibitions of their drawings attest, Michelangelo was far more consistent in his formal aims: His drawings were essentially, though not exclusively, accessories to achievements in sculpture, painting, and architecture that rank him as incomparably the greatest of modern artists. Dürer, on the other hand, will always be remembered first and foremost as a draftsman. Drawing, however, is the foundation of the visual arts, architecture included (though that fact is routinely overlooked in the computer age). And the virtuosity of Dürer’s prolific achievements as a draftsman, varied as they are in terms of medium, genre, and style, never ceases to amaze.
Thus the exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts of 26 Michelangelo drawings from the Casa Buonarroti in Florence (through June 30) and the display of 137 Dürer drawings, watercolors, engravings, and woodcuts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington (through June 9) are not to be missed. The latter exhibit mainly features works on loan from the Albertina in Vienna.