Sunday, October 4, 2015

Albrecht Durer, a native of Germany, lived from 1471-1528, at the height of the Northern Renaissance. He was both a painter and a draughtsman, but his graphic work have received much more attention than his paintings in the centuries since his death, and he is best known for his engravings. Giorgio Vasari credited Durer with possessing the gifts he associated with the Tuscan tradition of painting, an extremely high compliment given that Durer was not Italian. In fact, Vasari's compliments towards Durer closely echo those he gave to Italian greats Michelangelo and Raphael. 

Durer took an interest in drawing early in his childhood. Many of his childhood drawings are in museums today, including one of particular interest: a self-portrait now in Vienna that was done in 1484, when Durer was 13. Though imperfect, it shows knowledge of drawing technique and a talent for portraiture. 
Self-Portrait, 1484

That same year, Durer's father took him as an apprentice is his goldsmith shop, which further educated him on modeling and design techniques. Durer later told his father that his true interest laid in painting, and he was tranferred to a three-year apprenticeship with a local religious painter named Michael Wohlgemuth. Durer likely learned the basics of wood engraving in Wohlgemuth's studio as well. Other major influencers on Durer's work include German artist Martin Schongauer and Italian artist Mantegna. 

From 1505-1507, Durer worked and studied in Venice. While there, he picked up the practice of utilizing preparatory drawings in lieu of pure underdrawings in preparation for his paintings, which he first practiced with his painting the Feast of the Rose Garlands. Durer's portraits of Emperor Maximilian I are particularly interesting because Durer first painted the Emperor not from life, but from a single preparatory cartoon, ultimately producing a drawing, a woodcut, and two paintings. 

Portrait of Maximilian I, 1518

In his drawing Head of a Woman, Durer returns to the Venetian technique again, using a gray base with black and white highlights added on, demonstrating the importance of that trip on the entirety of his career.  

Head of an Angel, 1520

Durer's last work was a drawing of Christ on the Cross, though the face was left incomplete due to his passing. Durer died in April 1528 after a brief illness. 

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