Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Life and Work of Albrecht Dürer - Amanda Jordan

Albrecht Dürer - Amanda Jordan

“The Germans, so easily regimented in political and military life, were prone to extreme subjectivity and individualism in religion, in metaphysical thought and, above all, in art.” (Panofsky 3)

German artist Albrecht Dürer was born in Nuremberg on May 21, 1471. His father was Hungarian, coming to Nuremberg to apprentice a goldsmith, later marrying his master’s daughter. Albrecht became the apprentice to his father and became quite skilled; however, he sought more. He asked to enter the workshop of a painter and in November of 1486 was apprenticed to a prominent painter in Nuremberg, Michael Wolgemut. He receives instruction in many branches of art and soon becomes influenced by drawings and prints of artists outside of Nuremberg. This influence sparks curiosity about the world of art outside of his native area, ultimately leading to his journey through much of Eastern, and later, Western Europe. He begins illustrating for many publishers and later, in 1494, gets married-though it is said he “outgrew the intellectual level and social sphere of his wife”.

Dürer’s interest in art and philosophy outside of Northern Europe draws him to Italy, where his close friend Willibald Pirckheimer is studying at Pavia. At this time, the arts and philosophy were experiencing a return to classical antiquity, and Dürer felt that German artists should participate in what was going on in this so called regrowth, termed “wiederwachsung” in German. This was followed by some of his most productive years in terms of number of works produced. He created an altarpiece for the altar of Our Lady at the National Church San Bartolomeo, and continued making lengthy trips to Italy. It is even said that while“he was honored by his German friends and by Venetian nobility, [he was] much envied by his fellow Italian artists” (Panofsky 6). In 1512 he was employed by Emperor Maximilian I, though when the Emperor dies in January of 1519 he returns home. In these years, Dürer becomes what art historians deem an “erudite” artist - he fully participates in intellectual movements of the period, engaging with scholars and scientists, not limiting himself to his artwork. In this manner, it is true that Dürer was “insatiably interested in every curious thing produced by man or nature” (Panofsky 10). However, upon attempting to view a beached whale in the swamps of Zeeland, Dürer contracts malarial fever and passes away on April 6, 1528.

Dürer’s name resonates through the Renaissance alongside artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. Through the trajectory of his life, his works progresses - intially he depicts animals, costumes and landscape, transitioning to biblical themes, and philosophical and theological allegories, even satirical subjects. He presents a wealth of detail in his work, leaving behind,
more than six dozen paintings, more than a hundred engravings, about two hundred and fifty woodcuts, more than a thousand drawings, and three printed books on geometry, fortification and the theory of human proportions, the last of which appeared about six months after his death” (10 Panofsky).
Though many know Dürer for his famous Hands of an Apostle, also known as The Praying Hands, which is a 1508 sketch for an altarpiece commissioned by Jakob Heller (see image), I would like to present some of his other works.

The aesthetic quality, expression, and refinement attract me to Dürer’s work, as is evident in those included below:

(from top to bottom: Feet of a Kneeling Man 1526, Head of a Young Woman 1521-1522, Self-portrait with bandage 1491-1492, Study of Drapery I 1508, The Man of Sorrows 1522)

Not only am I intrigued by Dürer's body of work, but also by his philosophy:

"When Dürer says "But if thou hast no right foundation it is impossible for thee to make something correct and good even though thou mayst have the greatest practice and freedom of hand in the world," he is in complete agreement with Leonardo who wrote: "Those who are enamored of practice without science are like sailors who board a ship without rudder and compass, never having any certainty as to whither they go."" (Panofsky 273)

Dürer's drawings evoke a certain austerity and beauty which seems to be evident throughout the body of his work.

Panofsky, Erwin. The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1945, Print.
Russell, Francis. The World of Dürer 1471-1528. NY: Time, 1967. Print.

No comments:

Post a Comment