Albrecht Dürer was a German painter with far reaching influence whose travels through Europe, including Italy and the Netherlands, gave him prominent success in printmaking and engraving. Renowned as one of the best artists of old master prints; his works were intensely religious and iconic. The DÜrer surname means “doormaker”, providing a fitting symbolism to an artist who created doorways into an often melancholic inner world, evidenced by his dramatic self portraits.
Straying from his father’s chosen profession as a Goldsmith, DÜrer showed great promise in drawing at the young age of fifteen. He studied under a leading artist of Nuremberg, Michael Wolgemut, producing self portraits as early as 1484. His earliest painted self portrait is from 1493, done in oil, and is now on display at the Louvre in Paris. Additional to his later artistic journeys through Europe, DÜrer refined his young age with travels through Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
After Marrying in 1494, he began his further travels to Venice, producing several watercolour sketches of the Alps along the way. Largely influenced by his stay in Italy, he returned to Nuremburg, opening a shop where he produced, comparative to the day, complex compositions in woodcut prints. It was during this time that DÜrer created his sixteen piece Apocalypse designs, a series that included his famous woodcut of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Before his master work years in painting, around 1507, he created many works praised by historians and scholars, including, The Prodigal Son (1496), The Sea Monster (1498), Saint Eustace (1501) and Nemesis (1502). These works incorporated highly detailed backgrounds and exquisitely rendered animals. His beautiful work on animals was also seen in various watercolour pieces of still lives in meadows, most notably, Hare (1502). The detail to which he abided by was also born of his studies in perspective, anatomy and proportion. This was a life-long exploration for DÜrer and can be experienced fully in his textured engraving, Adam and Eve (1504).
An artist that never stopped evolving, he carried these studies into painting, returning to his subjects, Adam and Eve (1507). This was one of four of his best known paintings completed from 1507 – 1511, including, Virgin with the Iris, Assumption of the Virgin, and Adoration of the Trinity by all Saints. While painting further enhanced this one-man renaissance, DÜrer returned to his first loves of printmaking, woodcuts and engraving. It was during this time, up until 1515, that some of his greatest art was produced. The Knight (1513), St. Jerome in his Study (1514) and Rhinoceros, were works he created in top form.
Perhaps his most analyzed work, Melencolia I (1514) epitomizes this period in DÜrer’s life. A work that, as some interpret, confronts the challenge of genius and melancholy of its failure, it enigmatically fuses religion, art and mathematics. DÜrer himself was a mathematician, writing a book on geometry and perspective, The Painters Manual (1527) and a four volume work on human proportion, published posthumously in 1528. He continued working with great capacity until illness struck him in 1521, returning to Nuremburg from travels. Still creating even as illness struck him up until death in 1528, his influence cast a shadow for many artists to live up to, especially in engraving.
DÜrer’s work has received a number of revivals over time; notably from 1570 – 1630 and again from 1870 – 1945.
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