Born 21 May 1471, death 6 April 1528, Albrecht Durer became one of the most lauded artists in his time. His mark upon any work carried with it a trademark or guarantee of quality.
Posthumously, he also transitioned into one of the most historically significant artists of all time. His resounding affect on the themes and role of art in the world is still being explored today.
Durer was born in Nuremberg, Germany to a Hungarian goldsmith father and German mother. His godfather was a prominent publisher of the Nuremberg Chronicle, a widely circulated
publication. He initially entered as an apprentice to his father in the goldsmith profession, but soon begged out to become the apprentice to an artist, Michael Wolgemut. Wolgemut
was the engraver and illustrator of the Nuremberg Chronicle. He apprenticed under Wolgemut for three years prior to taking some "gap years" in his education to travel to Switzerland
and other locales in Northern Europe. He was married to Agnes Frey on his return (a fruitless marriage but not an unhappy one). Later the same year, he traveled to Italy both to learn
from current masters in the region and to escape an outbreak of plague in Germany. He opened his own engraving shop and employed many master engravers and woodcutters from the Nuremberg Chronicle. As his works gained a larger circulation, he was commissioned for works in Venice by wealthy humanists, in Germany by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, and in the Netherlands. By his death of fever in 1528, he had become one of the wealthiest citizens in Germany and had risen to an almost unrivaled celebrity in Europe. Upon his death he left almost 1000 distinct drawings and two published novels as his legacy.
His primary influences included Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, and Lorenzo di Credi. However, his driving force in the revolution of woodcut and printmaking was simply an inner desire to push the medium to never before seen heights of detail and precision. The revelation of his work was a distinctive combination of Renaissance/Italian styles with Northern European artforms and media.
One of the lasting contributions of Albrecht Durer is his dedication to the pure landscape. His watercolors (made on his way to Italy for the first time) are the earliest Western pure landscape studies to survive to modern times.
Study of a Rock-Face in a Quarry near Nuremberg
c. 1496 Watercolor and bodycolor over black chalk
225 x 287 mm
Landscape with a Woodland Pool
Base sketch for final drawing done in:
Watercolor and bodycolor
262 x 365 mm
Fisherman's House on a Lake Near Nuremberg
c. 1496 Watercolor and bodycolor
213 x 225 mm
As one can see, Durer supplemented the freedom of watercolor painting with an intricately detailed sketch base with which to work.
Process (Italian art in new media):
Studies for the Hand and Arm of Adam, and Rocks and Bushes
c. 1504 Pen and borwn and black ink
216 x 275 mm
Adam and Eve
c. 1504 Engraving
Adam and Eve
c. 1507 Oil on panel
Here we see the adaptation of Italian styles into new media as well as Durer's customary attention to minute details. We can see his process in these three images moving from detailed
studies of the human form to an engraving to a finished oil painting in a traditional Renaissance style.
Mastery of Engraving and the Engraver's tool (burin):
Durer is primarily known for his engraving Melancholia which shows the connection between a depressed state and the act of creating art. These three engravings are often considered his
masterworks and have been imitated, discussed, and parodied heavily since their creation. Specifically, the use of Hitler as the Knight cavorting with Death and the Devil.
St. Jerome in His Study
c. 1514 Engraving
248 x 189 mm
Knight, Death, and the Devil
246 x 190 mm
c. 1514 Engraving
242 x 188 mm
Hitler as Durer's Knight (Lanzinger)
Books and Publications:
Among all his great art works, Durer also found time to publish two books, Four Books on Measurement and Four Books on Human Proportion. The first is a treatise on the proper construction and drawing of geometric forms such as helices and regular polygons. He treated matters of art in a very scientific and systematic way. In the second, he enumerated all body parts as fractions of the total height for many different archetypal forms of male and female bodies.
Thus we come to the end of Durer's life and works. I truly love Durer's art mostly due to his ability to extract such detail from his engravings, drawings, and paintings without having any of it muddled or confusing. He mastered the ability to show unbelievable subtlety in line and form while conveying a drawing with such force of meaning and visual impact. He made drawings that indeed one can "look at for a long time." In fact, art scholars still debate the meanings and themes of many of his works. However, no one debates the massive impact and great gift of Albrecht Durer.
Bartrum, Giulia. Dürer. Eds. British Museum. and Albrecht Dürer. London : British Museum, 2007Web.
Dürer and His Culture. Eds. edited by Dagmar Eichberger and Charles Zika., Dagmar Eichberger, and Charles Zika. Cambridge, U.K. ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1998Web.
Moser, Peter. Albrecht Dürer : His Life, His World and His Art. Ed. Albrecht Dürer. Bamberg : Babenberg, 2005Web.
Wolf, Norbert, 1949-. Albrecht Dürer, 1471-1528 : The Genius of the German Renaissance. Ed. Albrecht Dürer. Köln ; London : Taschen, c2006Web.