Dürer, Albrecht

Dürer, Albrecht
   The most famous artist of the German Renaissance, active as a painter and engraver. Born at Nuremberg, the son of a goldsmith, he began to study that craft under his father but was apprenticed (1486-1489) to a prominent local painter, Michael Wolgemut. Upon completing this training, he became an itinerant craftsman, working at Basel and Strasbourg, especially on woodcut illustrations to illustrate books. In 1494 he returned to Nuremberg and married, but that autumn he made the first of two historically important trips to Italy, where he was strongly influenced by the work of Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini. Bellini in particular became his friend and taught him the Venetian style of using color.
   Dürer settled down in Nuremberg in 1495, beginning a highly successful career as a painter and engraver. Although he was a skilled painter and exemplified the reshaping of the traditional German style by the influence of Italian Renaissance art, the rapid growth of his fame throughout Europe was the result of his productivity and skill as a maker of printed engravings which served to diffuse both his new Renaissance style and his reputation far and wide. By the time of his second trip to Italy (1505-1507), he was already a well-known artist. He returned to Nuremberg early in 1507 and in 1512 became official painter to the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. He and his apprentices produced a set of 192 woodcut illustrations for the Triumphal Arch, an illustrated book planned by Maximilian to advertise the achievements of his reign. In 1520-1521 Dürer made a journey to the Netherlands in order to secure confirmation of his imperial pension by the new Emperor Charles V. On this journey, which is recorded in his diary, he was greeted as a major artist and was able to meet the expenses of his trip by the sale of prints. He spent his last years back home in Nuremberg, concentrating on portraits of wealthy and famous persons.
   Dürer became a close friend of the Nuremberg humanist Willibald Pirckheimer and was the only local artist who formed an integral part of the city's circle of humanist intellectuals. From about 1519 he became increasingly committed to the religious ideas of Martin Luther. In 1526, when the city became officially Lutheran, he presented to the city council two panels containing his noted portraits of the Four Apostles.
   Dürer represents not only the influence of Italian art on the Germanic north but also the emergence of the artist as an intellectual as well as a craftsman. He published several theoretical and practical treatises on art, including books on measurement, on fortification, and on the proportions of the human body. He was one of the most prolific artists of the Renaissance. His best-known paintings include his early self-portrait (1500), which is reminiscent of 15th-century Flemish paintings, his Adam and Eve (1507), which shows the influence of Venetian art, and his Four Apostles (1526), which is clearly the work of a man who has assimilated the technical skills and much of the aesthetic sensibility of the Italian Renaissance. Perhaps even greater, and certainly more widely available, were his many engravings, of which the most admired are The Four Horsemen (1497-1498), Knight, Death, and Devil (1513), St. Jerome in His Study (1513), Melencolia I (1514), the Triumphal Arch of Maximilian (1515), and several portraits of prominent personages of his time, including Cardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg (1519), Frederick III of Saxony (1524), and three portraits done in 1526: the humanist Erasmus, the Protestant leader Philipp Melanchthon, and his fellow townsman and friend, Pirckheimer. Dürer worked in other media as well, designing stained glass windows and fountains. Also admired are the water-color landscapes he painted on his way back to Germany during his first visit to Italy.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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