Tag Archives: Albrecht Durer

The Red Leather Archive

This edition of the Red Leather Archive re-examines The Astronomer reviewed by Andrew Graham Dixon, Sunday Times, 2004.  Since that time Vermeer has been experiencing a renewed popularity, a fresh exhibition, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting, at The Louvre drawing record visitors.  Continuing the relevancy of technology and historical art, apps were launched for both Apple and Google, bringing Vermeer to the cutting edge of art appreciation, redefining the museum experience.

The Astronomer, Johannes Vermeer, 1668, The Lourvre, since 1983

The Astronomer, Johannes Vermeer, 1668, The Lourvre, since 1983.

The idealized image of The Astronomer by Johannes Vermeer, 1632-1675, depicts a 17th century scientist rapt in his study of the heavens.  Juxtaposed with its twin, The Geographer, the themes in the pictures run parallel courses towards the same moment.  Produced in the later period of the painter’s life, these are two of the only three paintings Vermeer signed, the other being the Procuress.

The Geographer, Johannes Vernmeer, Stadel Museum, 1668-1669.

The Geographer, Johannes Vernmeer, Stadel Museum, 1668-1669.

A 2017 study indicated that the canvas for the Geographer and Astronomer came from the same bolt of material, confirming their close relationship.  The paintings are unusual for Vermeer for having a male subject.  Styled correspondingly, the same man appears in both paintings, his identity unknown.  The historical record suggests the cloth merchant and amateur scientist, Antony Van Leeuwenhoek.  A contemporary of the artist, both born in the city of Delft, where van Leeuwenhoek assisted the family in sorting out Vermeer’s financial matters post mortem.


Faust depicted in an etching by Rembrandt (c. 1650). Faust, also a scholar, is depicted in the same pose as The Geographer, although facing in roughly the opposite direction.

The theme of the scholar in his study goes back to the Renaissance, where a number of artists including Jan van Eyck, Antonello da Messina and Albrecht Durer, depict St. Jerome in his study.  The celestial globe the model explores has been identified as one made in 1618 by the Amsterdam humanist Jodocus Hondius.  The book lying open on the table before him is a second edition of Adriaan Metius’ Institutiones Astronomicae et Is.  The painting scene appears mystical, and the oeuvre of Vermeer hints at mysterious beliefs, flooded by an otherworldly light suffusing the scene;  striking the celestial globe and the heavy ruck of carpet swag at the edge of the table; as intellect and knowledge fuse and combine, the artist capturing that moment, exquisitely.

St. Jerome in His Study

St. Jerome in his Study, Albrecht Durer

Vermeer and the Delft School

Vermeer and the Delft School

Thank you for joining me for this edition of the Red Leather Archive.  What art stories are you interested in hearing about?




Johnson, C. Richard, Jr, and Sethares, W.A. (2017). “Canvas Weave Match Supports Designation of Vermeer’s Geographer and Astronomer as a Pendant Pair”. Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art.

Bailey, Anthony (2001). Vermeer: A View of Delft. pp. 165–170. ISBN 0-8050-6930-5.

Vermeer and the Delft School, Metropolitan Museum of Art


Leave a comment

Filed under April

Renaissance Rock Star

Albrecht Dürer

Renaissance Rock Star

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, .

1 Comment

Filed under June