Renaissance Rock Star
Abrecht Dürer (1471-1528) was the dominant artist of the Northern Renaissance. Possessed with ambitious determination, sophisticated imagination, and a probing intellect making him the Bavarian equal of Leonardo da Vinci. Dürer’s prodigious output can be seen in collections around the world, showcasing his influence and innovation in woodcuts and engravings. An artist with the rock star image, he transformed the woodcut medium from primitive folk renderings to the finest of art. If this artist was personally vain, just take a look at these self-portraits, you can’t blame him.
The finest collection of Dürer’s graphic art resides in Albertina in Vienna. The collection represents the full range of his subject matter, from detailed renderings of the natural world and investigations of proportions to portraits, landscapes and religious and allegorical themes, providing a comprehensive timeline of artistic development and creative genius.
Albrecht, born in Nuremberg, 1471, was the son of a goldsmith and after some basic schooling was expected to join the family trade. Nevertheless, the youngster demonstrated that he was meant for larger things; just take a look at that teenage self-portrait; Dürer followed the standard bourgeois-artist route studying painting, developing a lucrative sideline in printmaking, guaranteed to make money. He traveled to Basel and Colmar studying art and technique, returning to Nuremberg in 1494 to marry Agnes Frey, daughter of a local burgher.
Works of art imported from Renaissance Italy intrigued Dürer, specifically the new emphasis on the nude human figure and subjects from classical antiquity. The fall of 1494 found the artist traveling to Venice, the artistic and trading capital of the era. There, he studied Renaissance art firsthand, including antiquities that adorned public spaces. He returned home to Nuremberg by the spring of 1496, introducing a greater sense of artistic dimension to his figures. His process of adapting classical motifs to Gothic convention with twisted strenuous grace take the viewer by surprise; and once you start looking at the details, down the rabbit hole you go; that being the power of Dürer’s art.
The artist took up print making actively after his Venetian trip, and this change of professional development was pivotal. Wide dissemination of his prints coupled with prodigious output brought success at home and abroad. The revolutionary woodcut series on the Apocalypse printed in 1498, shows fifteen terrifying images illustrating the text of the Book of Revelation, these include depictions of the Whore of Babylon riding the seven headed beast described in the scripture.
Dürer started using his initials to sign his work in the 1490s. The monogram used on most of his drawings and paintings was prominently incorporated into his prints. Dürer’s monograms was so esteemed that he had to bring suit to stop others from using it. It was, in essence, an artistic trademark, granted protection by the Nuremberg town council against piracy. The Bolognese engraver Marcantonio Raimondi took a fancy to the work of Dürer. As recounted by Giorgio Vasari, the 16th-century writer on art, Dürer was so incensed by Raimondi’s copies of his “Life of the Virgin” series in 20 woodcuts (circa 1504-5) that he sued and succeeded in keeping him from using Dürer’s insignia.
Dürer’s interest in the nude predated his first trip to Italy, but his exposure there to classical art and Italian Renaissance painting intensified his quest for perfection in the representation of the human body. After readying Vitruvius, the first-century BC architect whose writing on human proportions also influenced Leonardo, Dürer attempted to develop his own system. His quest culminated in his engraving of Adam and Eve, a portrayal of the biblical couple the moment before they eat the apple offered by the serpent, only to be expelled from the Garden of Eden. By 1504 Dürer was a master of the engraving technique, and this print especially demonstrated his unparalleled ability to depict light and shade as well as an astonishing variety of surfaces and textures.
Dürer’s Adam and Eve are presented as the ideal man and women, yet the artist’s search for perfection in the human figure continued to occupy him for the rest of his life. Eventually he changed from looking for a single model for the male or female body to considering a variety of ideal types. This led to Four Books on Human Proportions, a theoretical and illustrated treatise published the year of his death, 1528.
The Albertina is the premiere depository of Dürer’s graphic art. The museum originated in the collection of Duke Albert von Sachsen-Teschen (1738-1822), who married into the Hapsburg Dynasty and settled in Vienna. The duke focused on collecting European works on paper. In 1796, his already distinguished collection expanded with the acquisition of drawings by Dürer belonging to the imperial family. These had been assembled two centuries earlier by Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612), who spared no expense in his search for works by his favorite artist, both in Nuremberg and abroad. He had many to choose from; Dürer cared deeply about his artistic legacy and preserved an astonishing number of drawings; most never left his studio during his lifetime and were passed down to family members or friends after his death.
Albrecht Dürer is one of my favorite artists, his work can be found in a majority of museums with Renaissance prints, I enjoyed putting together this synopsis on the life of one of the great artists. I am collecting for a new Cabinet of Curiosities and visiting some new museums in the coming days . .
Wikipedia has an enormous selection of paintings, woodcuts and engravings .
The Royal Collection has the complete page of the Emperor’s Carriage and Triumphal Carts, .