She began looking for painted prints whenever she went to another museum or print room. She found enough of them to warrant a research project. And she got Thomas Primeau, a BMA conservator expert in papers and colors, to make sure prints were indeed painted during the Renaissance and not just in 19th-century art shops. Primeau has written an enlightening essay for the catalog. And the show includes a replica of a 16th-century colorist studio with a brilliant array of pigments typical of that era. The show has been handsomely mounted by Karen Nielsen, the museum's director of design and installation, who went to Antwerp to ensure the studio's authenticity.
Dackerman got a research grant from the National Gallery of Art's Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts, and she and Primeau left for three months in Europe in 1999.
"We went to London and Oxford and Cambridge. The Ashmolean [at Oxford], they were terrific. The place is terrific and the prints were great things. The Ashmolean is a really nice little museum."
In the exhibition, the grim-faced Emperor Maximilian on Horseback and the tender Virgin and Child Under a Round Arch, both colored woodcuts done in 1508 by the German Hans Burgkmair, come from the Ashmolean.
"We spent a lot of time in Germany," she says. "We were in Berlin and Nuremberg, and Coburg, and Wolfenbuettel, and Braunschweig. We were all over the map. Literally we'd just spend the day doing research, get on the train, go to the next city, spend the day doing research, get on the train and go to the next city."
She tried to plan ahead as much as possible. She wrote to print curators and collectors and tried to plan a route.
"But it was impossible to stick to the original itinerary. Because we never knew what we would find in any one place or how long we would need to stay.
"For instance, before going I wrote to the curator at the Veste Coburg. Coburg is this [small] town north of Nuremberg. She said, sure, we have a couple of examples of hand-colored colored prints in the collection, why don't you come and see them?
"When we got there she said that she had decided before our arrival to have someone from the museum go through all the boxes. So they looked through tens of thousands of prints. And what they ended up finding were hundreds and hundreds of examples of these hand-colored prints. So where we intended to spend just a day or two in Coburg, we ended up there over a week because it was such a bonanza of material."
Coburg is the home of the Saxe-Coburg ancestors of Queen Elizabeth II, whose great-great-grandfather, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, was born there. So was Victoria's mother. The museum at Veste Coburg, a fortified castle dating from the Middle Ages, houses a collection of 350,000 prints by 5,000 European masters and among a wealth of art and artifacts, 26 paintings by Lucas Cranach (1472-1553), who was court painter there. Martin Luther also found refuge at the castle in 1530.
Seeing it come together
Seven painted prints from Veste Coburg are in the exhibition, including its signature work, Saint Jerome in His Study, from 1514. It's shown alongside the black and white version from the BMA's collection. The engraving is a work of genius in black and white; in color it leaps into life.
The show has 27 such pairs, including Head of Christ, a woodcut by Hans Sebald Beham based on a Durer etching. The colorist added blood dripping from the Crown of Thorns to the original woodcut.
In Berlin, they found the spectacular Triumphal Arch of Emperor Maximilian I, by Durer. About 12 feet by 10 and composed of 192 separate woodcuts, the Triumphal Arch is a grand monument to the colossal ego of the emperor who consolidated the Holy Roman Empire by marriage and military force. In Dackerman's words, it "functions as a billboard of Maximilian I's accomplishments."
In the State Museum in Berlin, the Arch was disassembled and stored in boxes. It hadn't been together for decades.
"We pulled out all these individual sheets," Dackerman says. "We never actually saw it all put together until it arrived at the BMA. When I asked to borrow the Triumphal Arch, [Holm Bevers, the curator in Berlin] said 'I can't remember the last time it was together.' But he and the conservators worked together to figure out how to mount it so it looked like a complete image. And frame it and get it shipped over here.
"You can imagine the anxiety, having never seen it all together before. My anxiety," she says with a laugh. "I had asked to borrow this huge print that I didn't know what it was going to look like." But, using one of her favorite locutions, she says, "It looks terrific."
But even more gratifying are the plans of the British Museum to include a number of hand-colored prints in the Durer show that will open this winter in London.
"So even the British Museum is going to open the door for this previously unexplored part of art history," she says. "And you know the British Museum is the premier place. It sets the standard for international scholarship in lots of ways."
Did your show help do that?
"It couldn't have hurt," she says, laughing.
What: Painted Prints: The Revelation of Color
Where: Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive at North Charles and 31st streets
When: Through Jan. 5
Admission: $7 adults; $5 students and seniors
Hours: Wednesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Call: 410-396-7100 (or online, visit www.artbma.org)