Albrecht Dürer

Jane C. Hutchison

in Art History

ISBN: 9780199920105
Published online January 2014 | | DOI:
Albrecht Dürer

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Albrecht Dürer (21 May 1471–6 April 1528) was a German painter, graphic artist, author, publisher, and mathematician. He was also the only artist to have an entire epoch named after him: the Dürerzeit (c. 1490–1528). One of the greatest engravers in history, he was also the man who elevated woodcut to the status of fine art and was a superlative maker of drawings in a wide variety of media, including watercolor. His altarpieces and portraits in oil, except for the sumptuous Munich Self Portrait in Fur (1500), are less well known. Two of his most famous works are the brush drawing of Praying Hands—one of many studies for the lost Heller Altarpiece—and the gouache drawing of a Wild Hare (both in Vienna’s Albertina Museum). These, however, became well known only after the process of color reproduction was perfected. His contemporaries knew his art primarily through his large woodcut books—the Apocalypse, Life of Mary, and three versions of the Passion of Christ, and by his engravings of unprecedented refinement, including the three “master prints,” the Knight, Death and Devil, St. Jerome in his Study, and Melencolia I. Dürer was equally well known as a writer and mathematician. His godfather was Germany’s most prominent publisher, Anton Koberger, whose typefaces and business advice on contracts with two sales agents were invaluable. Dürer’s theoretical books played a leading role in the spread of Renaissance style among artists and patrons north of the Alps, particularly the Manual of Measurement (Unterweysung der Messung, Nuremberg, 1525) and the Four Books of Human Proportion (Von menschlicher Proportion, Nuremberg, 1528). They were quickly translated into various languages, while his graphic art was a mainstay in the training of young artists in both Europe and the New World for centuries to come. Dürer is nearly unique as an artist, since his fame has never declined, unlike Raphael, Rembrandt, or Michelangelo, all of whom owned prints or drawings by him, as did Pontormo, Nicholas Hilliard, William Blake, Goethe, and all of the Nazarenes. His prints inspired work by El Greco, Caravaggio, Victor Hugo, Friedrich Nietzsche, Friedrich Engels, Odilon Redon, Thomas Mann, Picasso, Otto Dix, and Ferdinand Botero among many others. His brilliant technique and written contributions to German scientific literature, as well as his early interest in the writings of Martin Luther and personal association with German and Netherlandish humanism, have made him increasgly famous over time. It has long been recognized that Dürer, a goldsmith’s son who had by his own account a minimum of formal education, could scarcely have been able to read more than a few words of Latin and would have needed a mentor for the major figures and issues of humanism. It had long been assumed that his wealthy, university-educated friend Willibald Pirckheimer was that person. However, Dieter Wüttke’s 1967 discovery of the Kassel manuscript of epigrams by Konrad Celtis dating from 1500, praising Dürer as not merely a new Apelles, but an “Apelles Teutonicus,” established Celtis as his first mentor, who remained an essential influence until his early death in 1508. This drew attention to the inescapable connection between Celtis’s plans for the Germania Illustrata and Dürer’s approximately thirty landscape watercolors, all of which are datable between 1494 and 1500, and all of which were done either in Nuremberg’s environs, or in territory that is now in Austria or northern Italy but which in Dürer’s day lay within the southern boundary of the Holy Roman Empire.

Article.  36182 words. 

Subjects: History of Art

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