One of the first artists to value originality, Albrecht Dürer believed that an artist had to pour out new ideas and break from convention. An early 16th century artist from Nuremburg, Dürer is revered today for his invention in print making and painting, yet I find his study of drawing most impressive.
Dürer helped to establish the linear 16th century style of drawing, using line not only to show contour but also mass. Holding his brush too tight and afraid of error, Dürer had trouble with painting. It was with printmaking and drawing that he was comfortable. For Dürer, drawing was not only a planning method, but also a way to keep track of personal thoughts. He included captions and written words among his work detailing experiences, techniques, and emotion.
Dürer used many drawing mediums: lead, chalk, silverpoint, yet pen consistently remained his favorite. Constantly carrying around either a pen or chalk, drawing became a way to express his state of mind – he spent a lot of time drawing those around him. For example, he drew his mother on her deathbed. Dürer commented on her state before and after death. His sketch is emotional yet at the same time blatantly analytical about the situation through his realistic depiction and comments. This reflects his constant desire for realism.
Constantly curious Dürer spent much of his life traveling to gain inspiration and learn from previous artists. Spent a lot of time copying figures from previous works, particularly Italian artists. Through these he practiced perspective and movement within forms. One notable example is his version of “Abduction of a Woman” – from which he practiced the forward lunge.
Later in life when Dürer became focused on painting, he would complete detailed study drawings as guides for his final work. These detailed drawings such as those made for St. Jerome in Meditation have become works themselves due to the intensity and labor he devoted to them.
Dürer devoted a lot of time to mastering techniques such as the anatomical proportions of the human figure. In his sketchbooks he provided comprehensive guides, sometimes critiqued as too formal, to impart the knowledge of drawing that he had learned to others. He wished that he had been able to learn from the knowledge of previous masters before him, and sought to leave a guide behind to train future artists. His guide is referred to as the Four Books on Human Proportions, which explain his take on anatomy and movement. Dürer’s extensive and exhaustive efforts to the mastery of drawing have impacted drawing as a medium today.
Strauss, Walter L. The Complete Drawings of Albrecht Dürer. Vol. 5. New York: Abaris, 1974. Print. Human Proportions.
Strauss, Walter L. The Human Figure By Albrecht Dürer. New York: Dover Publications, 1972. Print.
White, Christopher. Dürer The Artist and His Drawings. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1971. Print.
Wolfflin, Heinrich. Drawings of Albrecht Dürer. New York: Dover Publications, 1970. Print.