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Albrecht Dürer


Adoration of the Magi
The Adoration of the Magi
Albrecht Dürer was the most famous artist of Reformation Germany, widely known for his paintings, drawings, prints, and theoretical writings on art, all of which had a profound influence on 16th century artists. Until his death, he made notes and drawings for his best-known treatise, the Four Books on Human Proportions. Artists of his day, however, more visually oriented than literary figures, looked more to Dürer’s engravings and woodcuts.

Albrecht Dürer was born on the 21st of May 1471 Nürnberg, Germany. His father Albrecht Dürer the elder, a goldsmith of lower middle class income, sent him to attend latin school at St. Lorenz. Later Dürer served as an apprentice to his father. He did not attend any universities. Right before becoming an apprentice of the painter Michael Wolgemut, in 1484, he completed some of his earliest work (at around the age of 13) which was one of his self -portrait series. He did his Wanderjahre in 1490-1494 in accordance with the customs of the painting guild and he worked as a draftsman for various printers. In 1494 he visited Venice to learn about the new Renaissance philosophy and art techniques. He also studied mathematics and architecture from ancient classics by himself. 1494 was also the year that brought Dürer increased social standing as a result of his arranged marriage to the daughter of a prosperous machine and instrument maker. In 1495 he set himself in his own workshop, working mostly as a draftsman doing wood- and copper- engraving, but also making altar pieces.

St. Jerome in his Study
St. Jerome in his Study
One of Albrecht Dürer’s earliest works include the oil on wood The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin (1496-97), The Baumgartner Altarpiece (1498-1504), The Adoration of the Magi (1504), Christ Among the Doctors (1506) and Adam and Eve (1507). In 1505 while in Venice, he undertook various works, including a large altar painting for the church of the German merchants. In 1512 he was called to do a series of drawings of the Emperor Maximilian and the city of Nuremberg commissioned “portraits” of Charlemagne and Sigismund. During 1513 and 1514 Dürer created the greatest of his copperplate engravings – The Knight, St. Jerome in His Study, and Melancholia. These three engravings contained enigmatic, allusive iconographic details. In 1521 he did a portrait of Christian of Denmark.

Albrecht Dürer was so great an artist, so searching and all-encompassing a thinker, that he was almost a Renaissance in his own right. Dürer was exceptionally learned, and the only Northern artist who fully absorbed the sophisticated Italian dialogue between scientific theory and art, producing his own treatise on proportion in 1528. He also rejected the gothic art and philosophy of Germany’s past, becoming the first great Protestant painter.

Dürer was not only a talented artist and engraver, but he is also appreciated for his technological involvement. He wrote Befestigungslehere in 1527 which summarizes the science of fortification, and many of his suggestions were incorporated by the city of Nuremberg. He also worked on globes, celestial charts, and armillary spheres.


Edited by Lina Mitova, Von Stueben High School, Chicago, IL
Researched by Ronald Suchodolski, Von Stueben High School, Chicago, IL
Written by: Matt Braunstein, Von Stueben High School, Chicago, IL
17 May 1998

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