Albrecht Dürer

Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) is one of the best-known Renaissance artists from northern Europe. His father was a Hungarian goldsmith who settled in Nuremberg, Germany, and taught his sons the skills to create the exquisite engravings and woodcuts of his later career. Dürer was one of the first northern artists to travel to Italy in order to study art. After spending time in Venice in 1494, he returned to Nuremberg, where he combined Renaissance theory with the technique he learned in Germany.

In 1498, Dürer published a cycle of fifteen woodcuts illustrating the Apocalypse—the end of the world as described in the book of Revelation. Particularly famous is his portrayal of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Death, Famine, War, and Pestilence. Between 1513 and 1514, he printed his three “Master Engravings.” The best known of these is Knight, Death and the Devil, depicting a medieval Christian knight riding fearlessly through temptation and peril.

Soon after Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, Dürer became an ardent follower of the Reformation. His great late masterpiece, the Four Apostles (1523–1526), includes lengthy inscriptions of Luther’s German translation of the Gospels, in which the apostles decry human error and pride. Dürer presented the painting to the city fathers of Nuremberg, a city which by this point had embraced Lutheranism.

In his later years, Dürer became increasingly interested in the theory of art. He published a study on perspective based on the work of Piero della Francesca in 1525. Two years later, he wrote a book on the science of fortifications. He was working on a major treatise on proportions when he died in 1528. Known as the “Leonardo of the North,” Dürer dedicated his life to harmonizing the classical ideals of the Italian Renaissance with the naturalism of his native Germany.

ADDITIONAL FACTS

  1. Although best known for his engravings, Dürer also excelled in watercolors. His watercolor Great Piece of Turf, is admired today for its scientific accuracy.
  2. Dürer experimented with an optical device for replicating reality on a two-dimensional surface.
  3. In his engraving The Fall of Man (or Adam and Eve), Dürer included four animals to represent the four humors or temperaments: the sanguine, the melancholic, the phlegmatic, and the irate
 
 
 

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