Albrecht Dürer – Master of Northern Renaissance

Albrecht Dürer
(1471 – 1528)

On May 21, 1471, German painter, engraver, printmaker, mathematician, and theorist Albrecht Dürer was born. He was considered as one of the greatest artists of the Northern Renaissance. Aside from painting, he also excelled in prints. Many of his works focused on Roman Catholicism, mostly altarpieces and other related religious art, but he also did numerous self-portraits. Moreover, his works were also backed up by theories, which join concepts in math, idealistic proportions and perspective.

In order to becoming a goldsmith, Dürer was apprenticed by his father, and during the year after he began studying art under the painter Michael Wolgemut. His earliest works were accomplished in this period, in which Dürer experimented with his first copperplate engravings and vellum sketches. During a journey through Italy in the mid 1490’s, Dürer painted several water colored pictures showing landscapes and several pictures in the style of Quattrocento, which he was critically influenced by during his trip.

However, even though Albrecht Dürer gained first experiences during these years, his real life as an artist began in 1503 when he went into business by himself and led a workshop with already three employees. In this period, the artist accomplished mostly the self portraits he is now (among the numerous engraved copperplates) so widely known for.

The second trip to Italy during the beginning of the 16th century influenced Dürer even more. He finished the ‘Rosenkranzfest‘, one of his best known works significantly influenced by the Venetian art culture and was deeply admired for this work. He was also asked to stay in Italy for a high monthly wage, but preferred to return to his hometown. During the following 10 years, Dürer created mostly copperplate and wooden engravings before intensively concentrating on his studies of proportions and further mathematical issues related to painting, like perspectives.

Dürer’s reputation across Europe grew and during a journey though the Netherlands, he was celebrated and admired by fellow artists and governments, and received numerous presents and awards during his travel. After returning to Nuremberg, Albrecht Dürer led the decoration of the city’s hall. Also he donated two impressive panels to the city of Nuremberg showing the apostles Paulus, Petrus, Markus, and Johannes. These belong to Dürer’s most influential works.

Dürer’s works as an artist helped to establish a whole new art genre of wooden engravings, like the Rhinocerus from 1515 and he improved the techniques of copperplate engravings critically. He authored several works on the problem of perspective in paintings and was one of the few artists during the Renaissance to be mathematically well educated. Albrecht Dürer read and understood geometrical problems very well, publishing a few works himself, in which he emphasized the meaning of accurate measurement and created new ways of construction geometrical shapes which put him often in contrast to contemporary artists.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture by Thomas Dacosta Kaufman on Albrecht Dürer and contemporary artists at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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