Renaissance Rock Star

Albrecht Dürer

Renaissance Rock Star,_Munich%29
Self Portrait at 26


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.



St Michael fighting the Dragon, 1498


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.


Hare, Durer 1502

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.


durer cupid


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.

Melencolia I (B. 74; M., HOLL. 75) *engraving  *24 x 18.8 cm *1514

Melencolia, 1514



Self-Portrait, Age 28, 1500


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 Flight into Egypt, 1504

The Flight into Egypt, 1504




The Albertina

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.

An Elderly Man of Ninety Three Years, Durer, 1521

An Elderly Man of Ninety Three Years, Durer, 1521


The Great Turf, 1503

The Great Turf, 1503

The Great Triumphal Cart, 1523

The Great Triumphal Cart, 1523


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, .

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Cabinet of Curiosities


Cabinet of Curiosities


Mary Jo Gibson

A memorable Museum Experience engages the visitor on levels expected and unexpected. Participation with new technologies opens deeper communication and understanding of the exhibit, inspiring intuitive learning; museums have this ability in spades.  Making the old new again with hands on exploration moves an exhibit to a level of relevance not considered in the previous scope of art, deepening the connection to the viewer; bringing all the senses into the Museum Experience.

Authors Own

Augsburg Cabinet, Chicago Art Institute

Viewing the Chicago Art Institute’s Augsburg Cabinet is stunning, however, not complete, as the hidden treasures within lie beyond the opulent doors.  Technology has produced a stunning video that shows the inner workings of the cabinet, the separate compartments, and the art that adorn the deeper recesses.

Authors Own Interactive

Cabinets made in the southern German town of Augsburg during the 16th and 17th century are famous for their showy decorations, typically executed in ebony veneer and ivory inlay, as with this excellent specimen on display in Gallery 234.  The craftsmanship of this decoration is matched by the inventiveness of the cabinets’ interior structure, part display case, part tool chest and part safe-deposit box.  These were usually commissioned by one craftsman who subcontracted the various specialized components and then sold the completed object from his shop.  Cooperation between silversmiths, cabinet makers and goldsmiths, a constant aspect of Augsburg craftsmanship, facilitated the production of elaborately mounted mirrors, clocks, traveling services and these specialized cabinets.  Produced in small series, the cabinets usually have only minor variations in decoration, they are calculated to appeal, in iconography, ornateness and expense to a limited circle of the court and the upper bourgeoisie.

Augsburg Cabinet, Chicago Art Institute

Augsburg Cabinet, Chicago Art Institute


Charity is represented atop the cabinet as a mature woman with small children.  She represents the Greek principle of unselfish love.  Three children accompany the figure of Charity, one as a baby in her arms (sadly missing his head due to damage over time), and the others two entwined about her legs, clutching her hands.

Authors Own

Charity, Augsburg Cabinet


The Arabesque Ornamental forms that cover the outside of the cabinet contrast sharply with the black sheen of its ebony veneer.  These sinuous forms were characteristic across the decorative arts during this period.  The motif was heavily influenced by contemporary engravings of Islamic and Moorish patterns.

Authors Own Detail

Duchamp’s Fountain

I had the pleasure of listening to the BBC podcast of Marcel Duchamp’s Urinal, and must say I was quite taken by the subversive nature of this artist.  I would like to thank Ben Street for sharing this podcast on Facebook.

Duchamps Valise

I looked into some more of Mr. Duchamp’s art, and found that he was a close friend of Peggy Guggenheim, who lived in Venice.  Several of his Box in a Valise (Boite en-valise) are famous 3-d efforts in the shape of a small suitcase or valise, each remarkable on their own. These small cases contain miniature replicas and color reproductions of works by the artist. He gifted one to his patron Guggenheim, which included a small version of the celebrated fountain, perhaps a sample version of the original.   The exhibited urinal has never been found since it was first viewed by the  Society of Independent Artists committee in 1917, subsequently rejected, photographed professionally by Alfred Stieglitz, never to be seen again.

Duchamps Fountain

While ‘modern’ art and the various movements have never been my cup of tea, this story and its destabilizing undertones gives me pause to re-evaluate my personal thoughts on these creations, and the artists.


Francis Willughby, Unsung Natural History Connoisseur, and Batman, The Dark Knight Rises


Sir Issac Newton’s Principia (Philosophaie Naturalis Principia Matrhematica) famously was to be the first book published by the Royal Society, however this was circumvented by another publication, A History of Fishes, by Francis Willughby and John Ray.  Samuel Pepys was president of the society at the time and is named on the title pages of both books.  While Newton is a name that has survived the centuries with his apple and gravity conclusions, Willughby and Ray have fallen aside through the annals of time.

frontspiece willughby and ray

Willughby was once Ray’s student and the two travelled together, studying, collecting birds and fish.  After the untimely death of Willughby, Ray oversaw the culmination of their notes and drawings into three books. These studies are considered the beginning of scientific ornithology taxonomy in Europe, dismissing the older inaccuracies of Aristotle.  Their collection of birds and fish is stored at Willughby’s family home, Wollaton Hall now the Nottingham Natural History Museum.  Wollaton Hall, incidentally, stars as Wayne Manor in the Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.  Trumped by Willughby, again I believe, Sir Newton.

Batmans House

Batman on the stairs

Thank you for joining me for this edition of Cabinet of Curiosities. Albrecht Durer will be following soon!



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