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Albrecht Dürer

German Renaissance Draughtsman, Engraver, Woodcutter and Painter

Albrecht Dürer Photo

Born: March 21, 1471 - Part of the Holy Roman Empire (Modern Day Nuremberg, Germany)

Died: April 6, 1528 - Part of the Holy Roman Empire (Modern Day Nuremberg, Germany)

"If a man devotes himself to art, much evil is avoided that happens otherwise if one is idle."

Summary of Albrecht Dürer

It's fair to say that without Albrecht Dürer, printmaking as we know it within art history and contemporary art, would not exist. Despite living approximately 500 years ago, he remains one of the most famous and important printmakers in art history, in particular bringing woodcuts printed in large editions into the realm of fine art and the art history canon.

Even though Albrecht Dürer's fame was largely built on his prints and graphic style, his financial income was secured with commissions of paintings of religious subjects and portraits, and these works remain held in high esteem for their draughtsmanship and use of color. He was, and remains, the most famous artist of the Northern Renaissance who successfully integrated an elaborately-detailed Northern style with Italian Renaissance's ideals of balance, coherence, and monumentality.

Key Ideas

Until the 1500s, the art of Renaissance Italy (focused on proportion, perspective and representations of 'man' in his environment) had remained almost entirely independent from late medieval art in the north of Europe (focused on naturalistic studies). Dürer combined these two modes of art making, and was the first non-Italian artist to apply contemporary philosophy, medical, and theological ideas to his paintings.
Dürer felt it was important to produce artistic allegories for new conceptions of the human. For example, his famous series of prints, Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513), St. Jerome in His Study (1514), and Melencolia I (1514), represent the three spheres of human activity: the active, contemplative, and intellectual.
Later in his life Dürer became increasingly engaged in scientific topics, publishing treatises including his Four Books on Measurement (1525), Treatise on Fortification (1527) and Four Books on Human Proportion (1528), for which he created illustrations. He believed that geometry was essential for producing harmonic artworks, and thus that it should be taught to all young artists, alongside other mathematical rigors.
Despite his decidedly Renaissance interest in humanism and mathematics, Dürer continued to produce extremely detailed studies of the natural world, particularly animals - be they newly discovered in Europe (such as the mythical rhinoceros and lion) or common native creatures (such as the hare, owl, or cat).
Dürer was well aware of his own artistic genius, which equally tortured and enlivened him. He painted a number of aggrandizing self-portraits, and would often appear as a character in his painted commissions. He was one of the first artist celebrities, with copycats, followers, and fans; in a model that continues to this day.
Albrecht Dürer Photo

Dürer was born in the city of Nuremberg on March 21st 1471 to Albrecht and Barbara Dürer as the third child of the two, who would go on to have at least 14, and possibly as many as 18 children. His father, a successful goldsmith, had moved to Nuremberg from Ajtós near Gyula in Hungary in 1455. He changed his surname from the Hungarian Ajtósi to its German translation Türer, meaning doormaker. Due to the local pronunciation, the family name eventually became established as Dürer.

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