|Albrecht Dürer (German pronunciation:) (21 May 1471 – 6 April 1528) was a German painter, printmaker and theorist from Nuremberg. |
His prints established his reputation across Europe when he was still in his twenties, and he has been conventionally regarded as the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance ever since. His well-known works include the Apocalypse woodcuts, Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513), Saint Jerome in his Study (1514) and Melencolia I (1514), which has been the subject of extensive analysis and interpretation. His watercolours mark him as one of the first European landscape artists, while his ambitious woodcuts revolutionized the potential of that medium. Dürer's introduction of classical motifs into Northern art, through his knowledge of Italian artists and German humanists, have secured his reputation as one of the most important figures of the Northern Renaissance. This is reinforced by his theoretical treatise which involve principles of mathematics, perspective and ideal proportions.
Early life (1471–90)
Self-portrait silverpoint drawing by the thirteen-year-old Dürer, 1484.
The earliest painted Self-Portrait (1493) by Albrecht Dürer, oil, originally on vellum Louvre, ParisDürer was born on 21 May 1471, third child and second son of his parents, who had between fourteen and eighteen children. His father was a successful goldsmith, originally named Ajtósi, who in 1455 had moved to Nuremberg from Ajtós, near Gyula in Hungary. The German name "Dürer" is derived from the Hungarian, "Ajtósi". Initially, it was "Thürer," meaning doormaker, which is "ajtós" in Hungarian (from "ajtó", meaning door). A door is featured in the coat-of-arms the family acquired. Albrecht Dürer the Elder married Barbara Holper, the daughter of his master, when he himself became a master in 1467
Dürer's godfather was Anton Koberger, who left goldsmithing to become a printer and publisher in the year of Dürer's birth. He quickly became the most successful publisher in Germany, eventually owning twenty-four printing-presses and having many offices in Germany and abroad. His most famous publication was the Nuremberg Chronicle, published in 1493 in German and Latin editions. It contained an unprecedented 1,809 woodcut illustrations (with many repeated uses of the same block) by the Wolgemut workshop. Dürer may well have worked on some of these, as the work on the project began while he was with Wolgemut.
It is fortunate Dürer left autobiographical writings and that he became very famous by his mid-twenties. Because of this, his life is well documented by several sources. After a few years of school, Dürer started to learn the basics of goldsmithing and drawing from his father. Though his father wanted him to continue his training as a goldsmith, he showed such a precocious talent in drawing that he started as an apprentice to Michael Wolgemut at the age of fifteen in 1486. A self-portrait, a drawing in silverpoint, is dated 1484 (Albertina, Vienna) “when I was a child”, as his later inscription says. Wolgemut was the leading artist in Nuremberg at the time, with a large workshop producing a variety of works of art, in particular woodcuts for books. Nuremberg was then an important and prosperous city, a centre for publishing and many luxury trades. It had strong links with Italy, especially Venice, a relatively short distance across the Alps.
WEDGIESAfter completing his term of apprenticeship, Dürer followed the common German custom of taking Wanderjahre — in effect gap years — in which the apprentice learned skills from artists in other areas; Dürer was to spend about four years away. He left in 1490, possibly to work under Martin Schongauer, the leading engraver of Northern Europe, but who died shortly before Dürer's arrival at Colmar in 1492. It is unclear where Dürer travelled in the intervening period, though it is likely that he went to Frankfurt and the Netherlands. In Colmar, Dürer was welcomed by Schongauer's brothers, the goldsmiths Caspar and Paul and the painter Ludwig. In 1493 Dürer went to Strassbourg, where he would have experienced the sculpture of Nikolaus Gerhaert. Dürer's first painted self-portrait (now in the Louvre) was painted at this time, probably to be sent back to his fiancé in Nuremberg.
In early 1492 Dürer travelled to Basel to stay with another brother of Martin Schongauer, the goldsmith Georg. Very soon after his return to Nuremberg, on July 7, 1494, at the age of 23, Dürer was married to Agnes Frey following an arrangement made during his absence. Agnes was the daughter of a prominent brass worker (and amateur harpist) in the city. However, no children resulted from the marriage.
Legacy and influence
Dürer on a 1961 German stampDürer exerted a huge influence on the artists of succeeding generations, especially in printmaking, the medium through which his contemporaries mostly experienced his art, as his paintings were predominately in private collections located in only a few cities. His success in spreading his reputation across Europe through prints was undoubtedly an inspiration for major artists such as Raphael, Titian, and Parmigianino, who entered into collaborations with printmakers to distribute their work beyond their local region.
His work in engraving seems to have had an intimidating effect upon his German successors, the "Little Masters", who attempted few large engravings but continued Dürer's themes in tiny, rather cramped compositions. The early Lucas van Leyden was the only Northern European engraver to successfully continue to produce large engravings in the first third of the century. The generation of Italian engravers who trained in the shadow of Dürer all either directly copied parts of his landscape backgrounds (Giulio Campagnola and Christofano Robetta), or whole prints (Marcantonio Raimondi and Agostino Veneziano). However, Dürer's influence became less dominant after 1515, when Marcantonio perfected his new engraving style, which in turn traveled over the Alps to dominate Northern engraving also.
In painting, Dürer had relatively little influence in Italy, where probably only his altarpiece in Venice was seen, and his German successors were less effective in blending German and Italian styles. His intense and self-dramatizing self-portraits have continued to have a strong influence up to the present, and have been blamed for some of the wilder excesses of artists' self-portraiture, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Dürer has never fallen from critical favour, and there have been revivals of interest in his works Germany in the Dürer Renaissance of about 1570 to 1630, in the early nineteenth century, and in German Nationalism from 1870 to 1945.
He is commemorated on the calendar of the Lutheran Church with other artists on 6 April. The crater Dürer on Mercury was named in his honor.