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Albrecht Dürer
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The greatest German artist of the Renaissance, Albrecht Dürer was the most famous artist in Europe during his lifetime. His intaglio and woodcut prints circulated throughout Europe, having a profound influence on artists of his time and subsequently. His paintings and watercolors were highly prized. 189 paintings have been attributed to Dürer, although some are known only through copies or other references, as well as about a thousand drawings, some 350 woodcuts and about 130 engravings and etchings. Dürer was born on May 21, 1471 in Nuremberg, the son of a goldsmith. He first apprenticed with his father to learn the goldsmith’s trade, but also learned to draw; a self-portrait from 1484 demonstrates his skill. Dürer later wrote that he decided he preferred to become a painter, and in 1486 he became apprenticed for three years to Michael Wolgemut (ca. 1434-1519), then the leading artist in Nuremberg. In addition to drawing and painting, Dürer learned to design woodcuts in Wolgemut’s studio. After his apprenticeship, Dürer traveled for four years, visiting the studio of the recently-deceased Martin Schongauer (ca. 1430-1491) in Colmar and then Basle and Strasbourg. He returned to Nuremberg in 1494, where he married Agnes Frey (1475-1539), the daughter of a prosperous goldsmith. Perhaps motivated by an outbreak of the plague, in the fall of 1494 Dürer traveled to Venice, probably supported by Agnes’s large dowry of 200 florins. He recorded his journey to Venice in a number of landscape drawings done in watercolor. After observing the works of Venetian artists such as Gentile Belllini (ca. 1429-1507) for several months, Dürer returned to Nuremberg and opened a workshop. He specialized in printmaking, both engravings and woodcuts, taking advantage of the group of experienced block-cutters then working in Nuremberg. About this time he met the scholar Willibald Pirckheimer (1470-1530), who would become a close friend; Pirckheimer introduced him to the circle of humanists in the city. Within a few years demand for Dürer’s prints lead him to hire an agent to handle the sale of his prints in other countries. Three journeymen artists joined his studio early in the 16th century, including Hans Baldung (called Grien, 1484/5-1545). They designed woodblocks for book illustrations and designs for stained glass, and painted works to designs by Dürer. In 1505 he traveled again to Venice, perhaps motivated by another epidemic of the plague. He also may have made the trip to initiate court proceedings against Marcantonio Raimondi (1480-1527/34), the Bolognese engraver who had copied Dürer’s Life of the Virgin series (1503-1505, Holl. 188-204, 207), including Dürer’s monogram. He would ultimately obtain an order prohibiting Raimondi from copying his monogram. German merchants in Venice commissioned an altarpiece for the church of San Bartolommeo, Feast of the Rose Garlands (1506, Prague: Národni Galerie), which was much admired, and led to portrait commissions. Dürer described his stay in Venice and a trip to Bologna in letters to his friend Pirckheimer. He may also have traveled to Florence and Rome. Dürer prospered on this trip to Italy. After his return he focused more on painting, such as the famous Adam and Eve (1507 Madrid: Museo del Prado) and an altarpiece for a church in Frankfurt. In 1509 he purchased a large house in Nuremberg. He continued to create prints, such as the Engraved Passion series (1508-1512, Holl. 3-18), the Small Woodcut Passion (1510-1511, Holl. 125-161) and Knight, Death and the Devil (1513, Holl 74). On commission from Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519), Dürer coordinated the production of the huge Triumphal Arch (1515, Holl. 251), made from 192 woodblocks; Dürer also designed part of the print. In 1520 he and his wife traveled to the Netherlands to sell prints and paintings and to attend the coronation of the new Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) in nearby Aachen with a delegation from Nuremberg. He visited artists, viewed art and was entertained by local dignitaries in Antwerp, Amsterdam, Brussels and Bruges. He recorded the trip and his business transactions in a detailed diary. Among the sights that impressed him were treasures sent from Mexico to Charles V by Hernando Cortes (ca. 1485-1547). After his return to Nuremberg in 1521 Dürer completed two theoretical books on proportion and one on fortifications, while he continued to paint and make prints, chiefly portraits. He suffered from a recurrence of an illness he had contracted while in the Netherlands, and died on April 6, 1528. A wealthy man at his death, Dürer left an estate valued at 6,874 florins to his wife Agnes. (TNB 6/2013). Selected bibliography: Bartrum, Giulia, with contributions by Günter Grass, Joseph L. Koerner and Ute Kuhlemann. Albrecht Dürer and his legacy: the graphic work of a Renaissance artist. Exhibition catalog. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002. Panofsky, Erwin. Albrecht Dürer. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1943 Smith, Jeffrey Chipps. Dürer. London and New York: Phaidon, 2012.