By Paul Dunwell, writing for EasyFrame
© Copyright EasyFrame 2019
This article is about the German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), a contemporary of the Italian Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) who was a diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher, writer, playwright and poet.
Both men made a major impact during the Renaissance (literally, ‘rebirth’), a time which saw the transition from medieval times to modernity, a time which heralded in all manner of breaks with the past, a time of huge cultural, political, economic, scientific and social advances.
For his part Machiavelli defined, with his treatise ‘The Prince’ (actually ‘Il Principe’, or ‘De Principatibus’ if you want the Latin), how a ‘warrior-prince’ should conduct himself as a soldier and ruler. Dürer, in contrast, saw himself instead as an ‘artist-prince’ – one whose prodigious output of drawings, paintings, etchings, engravings, woodcuts, prints and writings, together with his impact on his many pupils, irrevocably raised the artistic bar. Oh, and he was a mathematician too!
Contrast and comparisons abound. ‘The Prince’ was published with the support of Pope Clement VII, whereas Dürer was a fervent supporter of the Vatican’s antithesis Martin Luther. It was Luther who led the revolt in 1517, nailing his 95 demands for reforms - including an end to the selling of pardons - to a cathedral door, that undermined the Catholic church and established Protestantism (explaining how he got himself excommunicated 4 years later). Indeed one should mention that it has been said that ‘Martin Luther broke Europe in 2 whilst Albrecht Dürer painted it back together’.
In short such men had intertwined destinies. Though they and their skill-sets and alliances were very different, they epitomised the scores of individuals whose perceptual insights were so truly revolutionary that as individuals and as a phalanx they’d have a lasting impact on not only their own countrymen but the rest of Europe and beyond.
We’ll leave Machiavelli there but, having established the context in which Dürer was working, let’s examine why he is revered as the most capable German artist of the Renaissance.
Dürer was born (and was to die) in the German city of Nürnberg, though – as we shall see – he was exceptionally well-travelled for somebody living in that era. His father (also called Albrecht) was a successful Hungarian-born goldsmith so his was a privileged background, and young Albrecht was the 2nd of 18 children. In fact it was such a talented family that 2 of his younger brothers also achieved recognition in their respective fields - Hans (short for Johannes) was an artist whereas Andreas was a goldsmith like their father. Young Albrecht started work at 15 as a draughtsman for his father though the latter, who’d already seen his son’s potential in work including a superb self-portrait he’d drawn a couple of years before, swiftly arranged a 3-year apprenticeship with painter and woodcut illustrator Michael Wolgremut. This heritage and early schooling explains why the young Dürer never limited himself to working in oils and watercolours – or even in 2 dimensions.
Dürer’s first known painting, executed when he was 21, was of his father. But, apart from the self-portrait already mentioned, he is known to have executed ‘Madonna with Musical Angels’ when he was 16. Whilst his extensive body of work includes altarpieces and religious works it is clear that Dürer had other influences. He came from a devoutly religious family (he painted his father with a rosary) but Dürer was almost 50 when he met Martin Luther and certainly from that point he’d be less likely to depict religious subjects as exponents of the Catholic church would do traditionally. It’s said that there are also Gothic influences present (this might be seen in the prevalent architecture of Dürer’s time and dating back to the 12th century, but is maybe a nod to the gloominess of the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ which ran for 500 years after the fall of the Rome in 476AD).
It has been said that to depict himself at 28 looking rather like a latter-day Jesus Christ was a little cocky if not overtly blasphemous. He knew he was good.
Albrecht Dürer travelled. We know that he went to Italy at least twice. To what are the modern-day Netherlands too (where it seems he caught the malaria that killed him). Likewise to Switzerland, to France and to Austria. From 1494, when he married at the age of 23 though they never had children, he travelled with his wife.
Dürer didn’t just teach numerous pupils. He was ready to learn and was influenced in Florence by the anatomical artistry of Antonia Pollaiuolo, in Venice by the Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini and graphic artist Jacope d’ Barbari. Notably he was influenced by Raphael, whom he met. In the Low Countries he was influenced by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden and Hugo van der Goes.
Albrecht Dürer is renowned for his grasp of both proportion and natural articulation, achieving an unprecedentedly detailed realism, something that’s seen in work featuring both humans and other animals. He painted beautiful watercolours in Austria. He also painted mythological scenes, being a little eclectic in his interpretation of Biblical subjects. Of course one cannot forget his woodcuts, copper engravings, work in iron, illustrations for books, altarpieces and more. As a consequence he was, and remains, much-imitated.
In summary Albrecht Dürer’s work has stood the test of time. And continues to be much-admired.
To find out how to obtain unframed prints for a few quid go to www.fineartprintsondemand.com/artists/durer/prints.htm, www.printed-editions.com/artist-prints/albrecht-durer/ and www.albrechtdurer.org/prints/. Or for more information go to www.durerart.com/Watercolors/Watercolors-Chronology.html.
Any good framers will be able to show you a vast range of different solutions and advise on what might be the most suitable given the work and its proposed location.
Article Posted: 19/12/2019 08:04:38