“What beauty is, I know not, though it adheres to many things.” — Albrecht Dürer.
Albrecht Dürer was born on this day in Nuremberg, Germany in 1471. Today is the 542nd anniversary of his birth.
Dürer was the third child born to Albrecht and Barbara Dürer. Although the family name “Dürer” means door maker, his father was actually a successful goldsmith. It was from his father that young Albrecht learned to work with gold and to draw. His talent for art led him to an apprenticeship with Michael Wolgemut at 15 and then to travel throughout Europe to study with various artist.
Dürer’s skill set grew to include woodcuts, water colors, print making, drafting, and oil painting.
Dürer revolutionized printmaking, elevating it to the level of an independent art form. He expanded its tonal and dramatic range, and provided the imagery with a new conceptual foundation. [The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
He came back to Nuremberg in 1495 and opened his own workshop. He did three woodcut series, Passion, Apocalypse and Life of the Virgin in the next few years. His work included both sacred and secular subjects.
…Such as the so-called Master Engravings featuring Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513; 43.106.2), Saint Jerome in His Study (1514), and Melancholia I (1514; 43.106.1), which were intended more for connoisseurs and collectors than for popular devotion. Their technical virtuosity, intellectual scope, and psychological depth were unmatched by earlier printed work. [Ibid]
Dürer’s time abroad, especially in Italy, influenced his ascetic chiefly in the areas of persepective, proportion and human anatomy. He wrote the Four Books on Human Proportion.
In 1512 the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian 1 became Dürer’s patron.
What Dürer was angling for was a lifetime imperial pension, and he got one, though at the price of taking on hackwork. Along with other court artists, he was ordered to design an array of ceremonial stage props to enhance the emperor’s status visually. Most of this stuff — chariots, arches, froufrou armor — was just shiny, expensive junk, and a waste of creative energy. [NYTimes.com]
That didn’t stop him from pursuing Maximilian’s successor, Charles V., as his next patron. About this time he also became interested in the teachings of Martin Luther.
Late in his life he painted his final masterpiece, two large panels for the Nuremberg town hall, The Four Apostles. In one panel St. John is in the foreground with St. Peter in the background, in the second panel St. Paul takes the foreground with St. Mark in the background.
He died in 1528 at the age of 56.