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Albrecht Durer

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Albrecht Durer
 
 
 
Albrecht Dürer, (born May 21, 1471, Imperial Free City of Nürnberg [Germany]—died April 6, 1528, Nürnberg), painter and printmaker generally regarded as the greatest German Renaissance artist. His vast body of work includes altarpieces and religious works, numerous portraits and self-portraits, and copper engravings. His woodcuts, such as the Apocalypse series (1498), retain a more Gothic flavour than the rest of his work.



Education and early career

Dürer was the second son of the goldsmith Albrecht Dürer the Elder, who had left Hungary to settle in Nürnberg in 1455, and of Barbara Holper, who had been born there. Dürer began his training as a draughtsman in the goldsmith’s workshop of his father. His precocious skill is evidenced by a remarkable self-portrait done in 1484, when he was 13 years old (Albertina, Vienna), and by a “Madonna with Musical Angels,” done in 1485, which is already a finished work of art in the late Gothic style. In 1486, Dürer’s father arranged for his apprenticeship to the painter and woodcut illustrator Michael Wohlgemuth, whose portrait Dürer would paint in 1516. After three years in Wohlgemuth’s workshop, he left for a period of travel. In 1490 Dürer completed his earliest known painting, a portrait of his father (Uffizi, Florence) that heralds the familiar characteristic style of the mature master.

Dürer’s years as a journeyman probably took the young artist to the Netherlands, to Alsace, and to Basel, Switzerland, where he completed his first authenticated woodcut, a picture of “St. Jerome Curing the Lion” (Kunstmuseum, Basel). During 1493 or 1494 Dürer was in Strasbourg for a short time, returning again to Basel to design several book illustrations. An early masterpiece from this period is a self-portrait with a thistle painted on parchment in 1493 (Louvre, Paris).

First journey to Italy
At the end of May 1494, Dürer returned to Nürnberg, where he soon married Agnes Frey, the daughter of a merchant. In the autumn of 1494 Dürer seems to have undertaken his first journey to Italy, where he remained until the spring of 1495. A number of bold landscape watercolours dealing with subjects from the Alps of the southern Tirol were made on this journey and are among Dürer’s most beautiful creations. Depicting segments of landscape scenery cleverly chosen for their compositional values, they are painted with broad strokes, in places roughly sketched in, with an amazing harmonization of detail. Dürer used predominantly unmixed, cool, sombre colours, which, despite his failure to contrast light and dark adequately, still suggest depth and atmosphere.

The trip to Italy had a strong effect on Dürer; direct and indirect echoes of Italian art are apparent in most of his drawings, paintings, and graphics of the following decade. While in Venice and perhaps also before he went to Italy, Dürer saw engravings by masters from central Italy. He was most influenced by the Florentine Antonio Pollaiuolo, with his sinuous, energetic line studies of the human body in motion, and by the Venetian Andrea Mantegna, an artist greatly preoccupied with classical themes and with precise linear articulation of the human figure.

Dürer’s secular, allegorical, and frequently self-enamoured paintings of this period are often either adaptations of Italian models or entirely independent creations that breathe the free spirit of the new age of the Renaissance. Dürer adapted the figure of Hercules from Pollaiuolo’s “The Rape of Deianira” for a painting of “Hercules and the Birds of Stymphalis” (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg). A purely mythological painting in the Renaissance tradition, the “Hercules” is exceptional among Dürer’s works. The centre panel from the “Dresden Altarpiece,” which Dürer painted in about 1498, is stylistically similar to the “Hercules” and betrays influences of Mantegna. In most of Dürer’s free adaptations the additional influence of the more lyrical, older painter Giovanni Bellini, with whom Dürer had become acquainted in Venice, can be seen.

The most striking painting illustrating Dürer’s growth toward the Renaissance spirit is a self-portrait, painted in 1498 (Prado, Madrid). Here Dürer sought to convey, in the representation of his own person, the aristocratic ideal of the Renaissance. He liked the way he looked as a handsome, fashionably attired young man, confronting life rather conceitedly. In place of the conventional, neutral, monochromatic background, he depicts an interior, with a window opening on the right. Through the window can be seen a tiny landscape of mountains and a distant sea, a detail that is distinctly reminiscent of contemporary Venetian and Florentine paintings. The focus on his own figure in the interior distinguishes his world from the vast perspective of the distant scene, another world to which the artist feels himself linked.

Italian influences were slower to take hold in Dürer’s graphics than in his drawings and paintings. Strong late Gothic elements dominate the visionary woodcuts of his Apocalypse series (the Revelation of St. John), published in 1498. The woodcuts in this series display emphatic expression, rich emotion, and crowded, frequently overcrowded, compositions. The same tradition influences the earliest woodcuts of Dürer’s Great Passion series, also from about 1498. Nevertheless, the fact that Dürer was adopting a more modern conception, a conception inspired by classicism and humanism, is indicative of his basically Italian orientation. The woodcuts “Samson and the Lion” (c. 1497) and “Hercules Conquering Cacus” and many prints from the woodcut series The Life of the Virgin (c. 1500–10) have a distinct Italian flavour. Many of Dürer’s copper engravings are in the same Italian mode. Some examples of them that may be cited are “Fortune” (c. 1496), “The Four Witches” (1497), “The Sea Monster” (c. 1498), “Adam and Eve” (1504), and “The Large Horse” (1505). Dürer’s graphics eventually influenced the art of the Italian Renaissance that had originally inspired his own efforts. His painterly style, however, continued to vacillate between Gothic and Italian Renaissance until about 1500. Then his restless striving finally found definite direction. He seems clearly to be on firm ground in the penetrating half-length portraits of Oswolt Krel (Alte Pinakothek, Munich), in the portraits of three members of the aristocratic Tucher family of Nürnberg—all dated 1499—and in the “Portrait of a Young Man” of 1500 (Alte Pinakothek). In 1500 Dürer painted another self-portrait (Alte Pinakothek, Munich) that is a flattering, Christ-like portrayal.

During this period of consolidation in Dürer’s style, the Italian elements of his art were strengthened by his contact with Jacopo de’ Barbari, a minor Venetian painter and graphic artist who was seeking a geometric solution to the rendering of human proportions; it is perhaps due to his influence that Dürer began, around 1500, to grapple with the problem of human proportions in true Renaissance fashion. Initially, the most concentrated result of his efforts was the great engraving “Adam and Eve” (1504) in which he sought to bring the mystery of human beauty to an intellectually calculated ideal form. In all aspects Dürer’s art was becoming strongly classical. One of his most significant classical endeavours is his painting “Altar of the Three Kings” (1504), which was executed with the help of pupils. Although the composition, with its five separate pictures, has an Italian character, Dürer’s intellect and imagination went beyond direct dependence on Italian art. From this maturity of style comes the bold, natural, relaxed conception of the centre panel, “The Adoration of the Magi” (Uffizi), and the ingenious and unconventional realism of the side panels, one of which depicts the “Drummer and Piper” and the other “Job and His Wife” (Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne).

Second journey to Italy
In the autumn of 1505, Dürer made a second journey to Italy, where he remained until the winter of 1507. Once again he spent most of his time in Venice. Of the Venetian artists, Dürer now most admired Giovanni Bellini, the leading master of Venetian early Renaissance painting, who, in his later works, completed the transition to the High Renaissance. Dürer’s pictures of men and women from this Venetian period reflect the sweet, soft portrait types especially favoured by Bellini. One of Dürer’s most impressive small paintings of this period, a compressed half-length composition of the “Young Jesus with the Doctors” of 1506, harks back to Bellini’s free adaptation of Mantegna’s “Presentation in the Temple.” Dürer’s work is a virtuoso performance that shows mastery and close attention to detail. In the painting the inscription on the scrap of paper out of the book held by the old man in the foreground reads, “Opus quinque dierum” (“the work of five days”). Dürer thus must have executed this painstaking display of artistry, which required detailed drawings, in no more than five days. Of even greater artistic merit than this quickly executed work are the half-length portraits of young men and women painted between 1505 and 1507, which seem to be entirely in the style of Bellini. In these paintings there is a flexibility of the subject, combined with a warmth and liveliness of expression and a genuinely artistic technique, that Dürer otherwise rarely attained.

In 1506, in Venice, Dürer completed his great altarpiece “The Feast of the Rose Garlands” for the funeral chapel of the Germans in the church of St. Bartholomew. Later that same year Dürer made a brief visit to Bologna before returning to Venice for a final three months. The extent to which Dürer considered Italy to be his artistic and personal home is revealed by the frequently quoted words found in his last letter from Venice (dated October 1506) to Willibald Pirkheimer, his long-time humanist friend, anticipating his imminent return to Germany: “O, how cold I will be away from the sun; here I am a gentleman, at home a parasite.”


Development after the second Italian trip

By February 1507 at the latest, Dürer was back in Nürnberg, where two years later he acquired an impressive house (which still stands and is preserved as a museum). It is clear that the artistic impressions gained from his Italian trips continued to influence Dürer to employ classical principles in creating largely original compositions. Among the paintings belonging to the period after his second return from Italy are “Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand” (1508) and “Adoration of the Trinity” (1511), which are both crowd scenes. Drawings from this period recall Mantegna and betray Dürer’s striving for classical perfection of form through sweeping lines of firmly modeled and simple drapery. Even greater simplicity and grandeur characterize the diptych of “Adam and Eve” (1507; Prado), in which the two figures stand calmly in relaxed classical poses against dark, almost bare, backgrounds.

Between 1507 and 1513 Dürer completed a “Passion” series in copperplate engravings, and between 1509 and 1511 he produced the Small Passion in woodcuts. Both of these works are characterized by their tendency toward spaciousness and serenity. During 1513 and 1514 Dürer created the greatest of his copperplate engravings: the “Knight, Death and Devil,” “St. Jerome in His Study,” and “Melencolia I”—all of approximately the same size, about 24.5 by 19.1 cm (9.5 by 7.5 inches). The extensive, complex, and often contradictory literature concerning these three engravings deals largely with their enigmatic, allusive, iconographic details. Although repeatedly contested, it probably must be accepted that the engravings were intended to be interpreted together. There is general agreement, however, that Dürer, in these three master engravings, wished to raise his artistic intensity to the highest level, which he succeeded in doing. Finished form and richness of conception and mood merge into a whole of classical perfection. To the same period belongs Dürer’s most expressive portrait drawing—one of his mother.


Service to Maximilian I

While in Nürnberg in 1512, the Holy Roman emperor Maximilian I enlisted Dürer into his service, and Dürer continued to work mainly for the emperor until 1519. He collaborated with several of the greatest German artists of the day on a set of marginal drawings for the emperor’s prayer book. He also completed a number of etchings in iron (between 1515 and 1518) that demonstrate his mastery of the medium and his freedom of imagination. In contrast to these pleasing improvisations are the monumental woodcuts, overloaded with panegyrics, made for Maximilian. In these somewhat stupendous, ornate woodcuts, Dürer had to strain to adapt his creative imagination to his client’s mentality, which was foreign to him.

Besides a number of formal show pieces—a painting entitled “Lucretia” (1518; Alte Pinakothek), and two portraits of the emperor (c. 1519)—during this decade Dürer produced a number of more informal paintings of considerably greater charm. He also traveled. In the fall of 1517 he stayed in Bamberg. In the summer of 1518 he went to Augsburg where he met Martin Luther, who had in the previous year circulated his Ninety-five Theses denouncing the sale of papal indulgences. Dürer later became a devoted follower of Luther. Dürer had achieved an international reputation as an artist by 1515, when he exchanged works with the illustrious High Renaissance painter Raphael.

Final journey to the Netherlands
In July 1520 Dürer embarked with his wife on a journey through the Netherlands. In Aachen, at the October 23 coronation of the emperor Charles V, successor to Maximilian I (who had died in 1519), Dürer met and presented several etchings to the mystical and dramatic Matthias Grünewald, who stood second only to Dürer in contemporary German art. Dürer returned to Antwerp by way of Nijmegen and Cologne, remaining there until the summer of 1521. He had maintained close relations with the leaders of the Netherlands school of painting. In December 1520 Dürer visited Zeeland and in April 1521 traveled to Bruges and Ghent, where he saw the works of the 15th-century Flemish masters Jan and Hubert van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, and Hugo van der Goes, as well as the Michelangelo Madonna. Dürer’s sketchbook of the Netherlands journey contains immensely detailed and realistic drawings. Some paintings that were created either during the journey or about the same time seem spiritually akin to the Netherlands school—for example, the portrait of Anna Selbdritt (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City), a half-length picture of St. Jerome (1521; Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon), and the small portrait of Bernhard von Resten, previously Bernard van Orley (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden).


Final works

By July the travelers were back in Nürnberg, but Dürer’s health had started to decline. He devoted his remaining years mostly to theoretical and scientific writings and illustrations, although several well-known character portraits and some important portrait engravings and woodcuts also date from this period. One of Dürer’s greatest paintings, the so-called “Four Apostles” (St. John, St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Mark), was done in 1526. This work marks his final and certainly highest achievement as a painter. His delight in his own virtuosity no longer stifled the ideal of a spaciousness that is simple, yet deeply expressive.

Dürer died in 1528 and was buried in the churchyard of Johanniskirchhof in Nürnberg. That he was one of his country’s most influential artists is manifest in the impressive number of pupils and imitators that he had. Even Dutch and Italian artists did not disdain to imitate Dürer’s graphics occasionally. The extent to which Dürer was internationally celebrated is apparent in the literary testimony of the Florentine artist Giorgio Vasari (1511–74), in whose Lives of the Most Eminent Italian Architects, Painters and Sculptors, the importance of Albrecht Dürer, the “truly great painter and creator of the most beautiful copper engravings,” is repeatedly stressed. Like most notable Italian artists, Dürer probably felt himself to be an “artist-prince,” and his self-portraits seem incontestably to show a man sure of his own genius.

Eberhard Ruhmer
Ed.

Encyclopædia Britannica

 
 
 
 
Durer - life and works
 
 
 
Formative Years: The First Journeys, 1483-1494
 

All the great painters of the German Renaissance, including Mathis Grunewald (ca. 1470/75-1528), Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), and Albrecht Altdorfer (ca. 1490-1535), had remarkable artistic personalities. This was partly conditioned by their environment, where they were quite rooted. The fact that they often held positions in government, as did Cranach and Altdorfer, also contributed to this geographic stability. Durer stands out among them not only for his artistic value, but because he was the only one who, without ever interrupting his own artistic activity, traveled to Italy and the Netherlands to search for new stimuli and experiences. Hans Holbein the Younger (1492-1543) also traveled: he went to France, Lombardy, and England. In England, he entered into the service of Henry VIII, where he remained until his death. However, he is an exception among German painters, and, in any case, he is younger than the artists mentioned, coming almost a generation after Durer.

Durer was born in Nuremberg, 21 May 1471. His artistic formation and his travel routes were affected by different circumstances, though they were largely determined by two factors: the central geographical position of his city—which favored commercial, cultural, and artistic relationships; and his family. His father, whose name was also Albrecht, was a respected goldsmith of Hungarian origin who, after having traveled and worked for a certain period in the Netherlands, settled in Nuremberg in 1455. Here he began to work in the workshop of the goldsmith Hieronymus Holper, and married his fifteen-year-old daughter, Barbara. He inherited the workshop after Holper's death, following custom.

 

 
 
 
Portrait of Barbara Durer

The portrait of Durer's mother (1452-1514), together with the portrait of his father, also called Albrecht, was part of a diptych that appears as number 19 in the 1573-74 inventory owned by Willibald imhoff, a Nuremberg patrician. This inventory also brings to light that the two portraits were acquired by Ursula Durer, the widow of the painter's brother Endres. The portrait was seen again in Nuremberg by Carel van Mander, as is recorded in his 1604 Schilderboek. It disappeared in the middle of the seventeenth century, to be rediscovered as the portrait of Barbara Durer only in the mid-1960s at the Germanisches Nationalmu-seum (Brand Philips, 1978/79). The museum acquired the painting from Munich's antique market in 1925. It came from the collector of Durer's drawings, the Frenchman His de la Salle. There are several indications that it is the painting of lmhoff's inventory. The number 19 (that is, the one corresponding to the place in the inventory), is painted on the reverse side. It is found on top of an image of a devil who takes shelter in the crack of a rock, between clouds. Furthermore, these clouds are identical with those appearing behind the coat of arms in the portrait of Barbara's husband.
The presence of the devil can only be interpreted as an image to contrast with Barbara Durer. Since Piero della Francesca represented the triumph of virtue on the reverse side of the portraits of Federico da Montefeltro and of Battista Sforza, it is plausible that Durer, painting on the reverse side, had wanted to represent the devil, driven out by the virtue and faith of his mother (note the rosary that she holds in her hands). It could be a slightly different formulation of the theme of the triumph of virtue over vice, which will be treated on subsequent occasions. If there are any lingering doubts that this is the portrait of a thirty-nine-year-old woman, mother of sixteen, as was Barbara Durer, one should remember that the portraits of women were generally much more idealized than those of men. In addition, the idealization could act as a final homage to her virtue.
Durer shows that he does not yet have a perfect mastery of perspective in the painting (note the left arm of the mother). Even the folds of clothing are represented somewhat schematically; on the other hand, his extraordinary realism is already demonstrated by the clear, flesh-pink of the face and the white bonnet with the fallen tip. The sleeves and the hands are only partly seen, according to the portraiture conventions of the day. The color of the background is neutral. The pictorial tradition of his teacher is still present. Note, in this painting, the resemblance of the mother's head to that of the Magdalene under the Cross in the Lamentation of Michael Wolgemut of 1484-85.


Portrait of Barbara Durer
1490
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg



Portrait of Durer's Father

The portrait of Durer's father (1427-1502) is found, in Willibald Imhoffs inventory, at the same number as the one of his mother. Separated from the latter, it was sold to Emperor Rudolph II between 1588 and 1628. Prior to 1675, it was part of Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici's collection; in the eighteenth century, it was at Poggio lmperiale and, since 1773, it has been at the Uffizi. The coats of arms of the Durer and Holper families are depicted on the reverse side of the painting, with the date 1490 and the number 19 of the Imhoff inventory. The two panels were furnished with hinges so that they could be closed, one on the other: on one side, the coats of arms in front of the smoky clouds could be seen, and on the other, the devil who is taking shelter in the crack of a rock.
The nineteen-year-old Durer painted the portraits of his parents as soon as he finished his three-year apprenticeship under the woodcutter and painter Michael Wolgemut of Nuremberg (1490), and before undertaking his journey to Colmar, for Easter (April 11) of the same year. These are the first two documented panels of the young artist, and the oldest example of a diptych of portraits known in German art.
The relief of the wrinkles of the hands, the length of the fingernails, the expressiveness of the moist gaze of the eyes—which reflects the window bars—the precise depiction of the eyebrows, and of the first hint of the beard: all these details indicate the immense talent of the still-young artist. The dimension of the head and the position, in the visual field, of the upper part of the body are also fruits of a wise, thought-out decision, which brings focus to the head, whether for the effect of light or for its relationship with respect to the dimensions of the painting. Together they create a delicate counterpoise with the joined hands. Before such pictorial sensitivity, the slight difficulty that the artist encounters in representing the shortened right forearm appears almost negligible. In comparison with the portrait of his mother, the one of his father is more characterized, and not only for the exterior aspect. According to Durer's description in the "Family Chronicle" of 1524, he was "a man, gentle and peaceful with whomever," and his sensitive nature also transpires from this image.
In general, the portrait of the woman should not be to the left—for the spectator—of the man's, as it is in this case (compare the portraits of the Tuchers); however, other examples like this exist.


Portrait of Durer's Father
1490
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence


 

Alliance Coat of Arms of the Durer and Holper Families
1490
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

 

Combined Coat-of-Arms of the Tucher and Rieter Families
1499
Schlossmuseum, Weimar






Hans Tucher
1499
Schlossmuseum, Weimar




Felicitas Tucher, nee Rieter
1499
Schlossmuseum, Weimar


Two Portraits: Hans Tucher & Felicitas Tucher, nee Rieter

In 1824, the two portraits were included in the inventory of the museum in the Jagerhaus of Weimar. After 1918, they were passed from the grand dukes to the museum.
It was commissioned in the same year as the diptych of Nicolas and Elsbeth Tucher. They had approximately the same composition because Wolgemut, Durer's master, had already done portraits of the members of the Tucher family years before. Even the setting of the portraits is very similar. The presence of an embroidered curtain in the background, the almost identical landscape passage seen through the windows, and lastly, the windowsill set equal spatial limits to the portraits. The foreshortenings of the landscape passage are imaginative and mannered, showing roads, lakes, and mountains. On the road, in the landscape behind the man's portrait, one discerns a wayfarer; on the path, in the woman's portrait, a man on horseback. The same clouds are seen in the clear sky behind the man, as in the wife's portrait, and in Elsbeth Tucher's.
Hans Tucher, a descendant of an old Nuremberg family and an important member of the city council, is depicted in lavish clothes, with a fur collar, a symbol of his high-ranking position. The head, portrayed in a more elevated position than that of his consort, is framed by soft and wavy hair. The eyes, which have slightly different size, have an open gaze, the eyelids are somewhat lowered, the nose is long and sharp, the lips thin: the result is a proud but winning look, which is also emphasized by the points of the beret folded to the back and front. Besides the ring he wears on his thumb, he holds—like Elsbeth Tucher in her portrait—another ring, gold, in his hand as evidence of his marriage, contracted in 1482 with Felicitas. She, in turn, holds a carnation, with a bud and a flower. Her plump face is turned to the left, but her gaze, with slightly melancholic eyes, looks to the right. Like her sister-in-law, she wears a gold chain around her neck, and the waistcoat, according to custom, is held by a buckle, which is engraved with the initials of her consort, H. T.
The combined coat of arms of Tucher-Rieter is depicted on the verso of the Hans Tucher portrait, which became the anterior side of the closed diptych.

Portrait of Elsbeth Tucher

In 1499, the brothers Nicolas and Hans Tucher (the latter a member of the city council of Nuremberg) have Durer execute their portraits and the portraits of their wives. In all likelihood, they had even determined the unusually small dimensions of the portraits and their characteristics with the artist: in a half-bust, holding a ring or flower. The background probably also corresponds to their wishes: a damask curtain, beside which a window opens sideways onto a landscape passage. The missing panel, with the portrait of Nicolas, probably had the coat of arms of the families of both spouses on the retro, as did the example of the panel of the Portrait of Hans Tucher. The dimensions of the panels and the fact that they could be kept closed leads one to consider that they were not representative portraits, but rather, objects destined for the family archive.
The twenty-six-year-old woman hides her braided hair under a bonnet with a net design, a sign of her status as a married woman.
The head is portrayed in a three-quarter profile, in the act of casting an affectionate glance to her consort. The depiction of the face is delicate: the eyes-each different—have an absent expression; the cheekbones protrude slightly; the chin is firm; the mouth is well modeled; the skin color, suffused in a soft light, is rosy. The overall impression is of a portrait of someone with whom the artist had some kind of relationship, without, however, betraying any particular emotion. It is realistic, but not particularly meaningful. The bodice is held, according to the fashion (see the Madonna who supports Christ's hand in the Lamentation of Christ), by a gold clasp with her consort's initials, N. T., and has a heavy gold necklace running beneath it. Both the clasp and the necklace are gifts from her husband. The letters embroidered on the bonnet and the two Ws on the folds of the blouse, perhaps the initials of some motto, remain unexplained.



Portrait of Elsbeth Tucher
1499
Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Kassel



 

Christ as the Man of Sorrows

The museum in Karlsruhe acquired this panel in 1941 from the heirs of the painter Philip Roth (1841-1921) of Munich. The head leaning on the hand and the gaze
of Christ express melancholy and recall the self-portrait of Durer in a melancholic and tormented state of mind, drawn in about 1491 in Erlangen. Nevertheless, the small panel must have been created as a private devotional panel at the end of his journeys, about 1493 or 1494 (Anzelewsky, 1991). The twigs of thistle and the little owl, who is attacked by other birds, engraved on the golden background, have prompted different interpretations, the most probable of which is the Redemption of man the sinner through the suffering and death of Christ.
As in the portraits, the head of Christ is of a distinguished workmanship, both for the formal and psychological profile; the painting easily lends itself to be used as a devotional panel.


Christ as the Man of Sorrows
c. 1493
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karslruhe

The third of eighteen children, Durer discovered, early on, his first artistic inclinations while training at his father's workshop for a three-year apprenticeship. He then entered, at age sixteen, the workshop of Michael Wolgemut, the painter and woodcutter; like other great artists, Durer was first a goldsmith and then a painter. At Wolgemut's workshop, altar polyptychs consisting of sculptures and large painted panels were executed. However, many were also done, which were then printed by Anton Koberger, Durer's godfather, a famous printer and editor of the time. It was the apprenticeship in wood engraving that was to leave a mark on the artistic development of Albrecht.
At the end of this three-year apprenticeship, the nineteen-year-old Durer, unable to tolerate the limitations of Wolgemut's workshop, and determined to widen his horizons, set out auf Wanderschaft. At that time, and for a long time after, these so-called Wanderjahre (years spent wandering) were, in Germany, the "journeying" apprenticeship of every reputable artisan. And it was so in Durer's Germany, even for an artist from the artisan class. The Lehrling (apprentice) would pass to Geselle (worker), then to become Meister, that is, master, and thus, proprietor and owner of a workshop. Durer did this, setting out along the upper Rhine. Certainly on his father's advice—who, in that period, had much influence on his decisions and artistic development in general—Durer made a stop in Colmar, in the workshop of Martin Schongauer, one of the most respected German painters and engravers of the age, who was also a goldsmith's son. Here he was to have stayed for another period of apprenticeship.
Unfortunately, Schongauer died shortly before Durer's arrival; however, his brothers allowed the young artist access to his works, particularly to his drawings, a certain number of which he kept for some time afterward. He proceeded on, arriving in Basel in 1492, which at that time was an important publishing center. Here he could put to use his experience as a woodcutter, contributing with illustrations to Sebastian Brant's edition of Narrenschijf (stultifera navis), Terence's comedies and Ritter vom Turm.

After a period in Strasbourg (see the Self-Portrait of Strasbourg), toward the end of 1494, Durer returned to Nuremberg. He had been away from home for four years. Unfortunately, we do not know if his Wanderschaft took him to the Netherlands as well, where his father had been as a young boy. It is very likely that he was in Cologne and Mainz. His return just three months away, the twenty-four-year-old Albrecht took, along with the conspicuous dowry of 200 florins, the hand of Agnes, the daughter of the artisan Hans Frey. She belonged to the well-to-do Nuremberg bourgeois and was an acclaimed harpist.



Self-portrait of Strasbourg, at 22
1493
Musee du Louvre, Paris

 

Self-portrait of Strasbourg

This painting was probably part of the Imhoff collection in Nuremberg and subsequently—though it is not for certain— part of the collection of Emperor Rudolph II.
After passing through various private hands, the last being L. Goldschmidt of Paris, it became part of the Louvre collections in 1922.
The very eloquent inscription, "my affairs are ordained from Him above," is expressed in an idiom that resembles the Alemannic-Alsatian dialect (Rupprich, 1956, I, p. 211 n. 6).
This is not surprising, since at that time (1493), during his early Wanderjahre, Durer would have been in Strasbourg. This would also be supported by the fact that it is a painting on parchment, an easily transportable material. Goethe, who had seen a copy of the painting, had already recognized in the drawing that the youth holds a sprig of sea holly (Eryngium) in his hands, whose current German name is Mannestreu, or Mannertreu, that is, "fidelity of man." This name consequently provoked diverse interpretations as to its presence in the painting.
Thausing (1876/84) insists on seeing a request for marriage in the gesture of offering the plant.
From the times of Pliny (Willnau-Giessler, Zeitschrift fur bildende Kunst, 1930), sea holly had been a sign of conjugal fidelity.
Durer would have painted the portrait for Agnes Frey, who was betrothed to him, as arranged by their parents. Ludwig Grote finds a link between the plant and the inscription and proposes a religious interpretation, tied to the Passion of Our Lord. Edgar Wind (Giorgione, La Tempesta, 1969) sees in the plant an allusion to the fortuna amoris or even to the constantia amoris, recalling that the plant was present in the engraving Nemisis (or Fortune) as well. However it may be, the presence of the sea holly, given the prominence Durer assigns it, has an important significance.
Before painting this excellent self-portrait, Durer, from the age of thirteen on, had already executed four others. Two of these, from his Wanderjahre period, are drawings in half-length. He is portrayed in all of them with his head covered, but in the Paris portrait, for the first time he chooses a showy, fashionable headgear: a red beret with a cluster of red ribbons, worn on a slant, as if from force of habit.
The long blond hair falling to his shoulders is similarly studied. On the shoulders, we find a garment with a red and gold hem draping over a shimmering white blouse whose pleats are gathered by many decorative ribbons.
We also see the sleeve puffing at the right elbow. So much refinement in attire does not reveal Durer as he was at that moment, a wandering painter and a novice without his own workshop; he represents himself in the portrait much better dressed than he would have been. He is represented here not how he actually was, but rather, how he visualized himself in the society where he wanted to be.
Only the fixed gazed reveals the artist who is portraying himself, because only in this way would he see his eyes in the mirror. The beauty of the mouth hints of Durer's still-present vanity. In contrast, the pronounced nose and the not-so-beautiful hands (the left one has been painted over; Winkler, 1957; Strieder, 1989 suggests that it is a later supplementation) already reveal his realism and precision as an observer. The heavy varnish unfortunately compromises the original brilliance of the color scheme.
This painting, a self-portrait at twenty-two, represents, with the exception perhaps of Jan van Eyck and Leon Battista Alberti, the first and most significant "autonomous" self-portrait—that is, an image unto itself and removed from the context of European art.




 

First Trip to Italy, 1494-1495

A few months after his wedding, the plague broke out in Nuremberg. Following doctors' advice, Durer left the city as a precaution. He crossed the Alps, passing Augsburg, Innsbruck, and Trent, to reach Venice, which was then an important trading center; the German merchants had their own flourishing colony and owned the "Fondaco dei Tedeschi." During his trips, Durer painted numerous and very beautiful watercolors with landscape and architectural themes, watercolors that—thanks to his technique (which was adopted, before Durer, only by a Wolfgang Katzheimer the Elder in his scenes of Bamberg, as far as we know) and their exquisite execution—can be considered among the most beautiful works by the artist.

Presumably, the German merchants of Venice introduced Durer into the artistic circles of the city. He naturally frequented Gentile Bellini's workshop, while the latter worked on the Procession of the Relics of the Cross in Saint Mark's Square. This is demonstrated by a drawing with three Turks and one Moor, evidently taken from that painting, which was not yet completed. In Venice, he painted devotional images and contemporaneously executed copies of some of Mantegna's and Antonio Pollaiolo's engravings and of Lorenzo di Credi's drawings. In the meantime, he carefully observed all that surrounded him—people, animals, and things—as ine drawings of the clothes of Venetian ladies, the costumes of the Turkish figures, and the famous Sea Crab (eriphia spinifrons), besides the portraits, all bear witness.


View of Arco
1495
Paris, Louvre


The Quarry
1495
London, British Museum




Virgin and Child before an Archway

As published by Longi in 1961, this painting was located in Bagnacavallo, in the monastery of Capuchins nuns founded in 1474; evidently, it has not left Italy since Durer's time. The cloth that wrapped around the child's hips was considered a posterior addition and has been removed. Longhi and Musper dated the work to Durer's second trip to Italy (1505-6). The catalog of 1971, as well as Anzelewsky, comparing it with various drawings of the artist, date it to his first sojourn in Italy (1494-95), and, more precisely, before the Haller Madonna, a date that seems much more probable. Strieder has it painted in Germany, in the period after the painter's first sojourn in Venice. The small image of the Madonna, like that of a private devotional panel, is painted, as Anzelewsky rightly observes, in the Florentine style, in a three-quarter figure. The Madonna is seen through a window, with one side of the frame and the window sill projecting out. The marble wall that stands behind the Madonna is interrupted by an arched doorway, which, standing open, gives way to another brick wall, illuminated from above. Between the Madonna and the back wall is a shallow space, typical of all Durer's early works. The Madonna, young and graceful, with long curls, wears a red gown and a blue cloak. She delicately holds the infant in her lap, like a most precious treasure. She looks downward and smiles gently, her eyes still lowered, enraptured.
The infant, delicately shaped by the effects of the light, is anatomically perfect; his rapt gaze is facing upward, toward his father. In his right hand, he holds a small strawberry stem, which may symbolize the incarnation of Christ (Levi d'Ancona, The Garden of the Renaissance, Florence, 1957). The small feet, one placed over the other, foreshadow the Crucifixion; the dangling right arm recalls the deposition and the lamentation; the white cloth, the sudarium.
Through the symbolic attributes and the expressiveness of the gestures, the image suggests to the faithful to contemplate the theme of the incarnation with that of the Passion.
These eventualities are foreseen and accepted by the humble pose of the Virgin Mary.



Virgin and Child before an Archway
c. 1495
Magnani Collection, Mamiano near Parma

 
 
 
 
Durer's Workshop in Nuremberg, 1495-1505

 

Upon his return from Venice, in the spring of 1495, Durer opened his own workshop in Nuremberg. In the beginning, he concentrated his energy on the profitable production of woodcuts, which were also devoted to the illustration of entire series, like the Great Passion and the Apocalypse, and a great deal of engravings. For the engravings, he was not lacking subjects of classical character from the moment in which he regularly started mixing with the humanist circles of the city. In those years, his relationship with Frederick the Wise began, which, in the course of his life, brought him quite a few commissions. He also had a lot of other kinds of work, including portraits, devotional images, and altarpieces, in which his treasured Venetian experience is often reflected (see the Haller Madonna). In addition, his theoretical studies had begun, especially those on human proportions, studies that had a great influence on his work. From time to time, he depicted himself, almost as if to measure how his ability and sensibility were being refined with time. The peak was reached with his famous Self-Portrait with Fur Coat of 1500.


 

St Jerome in the Wilderness

This small panel, which only since 1957 has been recognized as an original, was previously attributed to the Veronese painter Giovanni Francesco Caroto (1488-1555). It was probably painted during the first Venetian sojourn of the master. This hypothesis is corroborated not only by the fact that the painting, in all likelihood, remained in Italy, but also by the presence of a lion, which is modeled on a study on parchment which Durer did in Venice, initialed and dated 1494 (W 65) (Note: Durer's drawings are cited with Winkler's numeration (W), 1936-1939.). Even the rocks to the right recall the studies of the master during his trip to Venice. On the other hand, the goldfinch and the bullfinch by the creek, the butterfly and the plants in the foreground appear simply as many small individual studies. The morning sky behind the rapt gaze of the penitent creates a dramatic atmosphere that we do not find even in Bellini's works. This reflects the interior struggles of the saint: an exceptional demonstration of the artist's talent at twenty-four years of age. Judging from the numerous copies that were made, the work had a strong resonance during this time, especially in the circle of Altdorfer, Cranach, and Baldung.
On the posterior side of the panel is a comet or a meteor; it is perhaps the record of a celestial event that took place on 7 November 1492, which Durer could have observed from Basel.


St Jerome in the Wilderness
c. 1495
National Gallery, London




The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin
c. 1496
Alte Pinakothek, Munchen and Gemaldegalerie, Dresden



The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin: Mother of Sorrows
c. 1496
Alte Pinakothek, Munich



The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin
c. 1496
Alte Pinakothek, Munich



The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin
c. 1496
Alte Pinakothek, Munich



The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin (detail)
c. 1496
Alte Pinakothek, Munchen and Gemaldegalerie, Dresden


Portrait of Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony

In 1700, this portrait was in the possession of an English painter, collector, and art merchant in Florence, Ignazio Hugford. It was from his heirs that the grand duke Pietro Leopoldo acquired it in I 779. From the Uffizi, it was passed on to Antonio Armano, and from him it was acquired by William von Bode, in 1882, for the gallery of Berlin. In all probability, it was executed by Durer in April 1496, during the prince elector of Saxony's (1463-1525) sojourn in Nuremberg.
The painting appears quite dark because the painting was not only applicated on a new canvas, but received in addition, varnish on top of the tempera painting which is not a common procedure. The position of the arm leaning on a window sill and the hands, placed one on the other, recalls the Self-Portrait with Gloves of Durer of 1498 at the Prado. It is the first portrait done of the elector, who was twenty-four at the time. The penetrating gaze and the creased forehead are the most striking features. These characteristics were not as evident in the following portraits Durer executes, and not even in the numerous portraits that Lucas Cranach, the court painter, made of Frederick the Wise. The prince did have large eyes, but Durer portrays them in this painting—and only in this one—with such an obstinate expression ("heroic-shadowy," according to Panofsky, 1955) that it makes one think that the artist's chief intention was to bring out the qualities of a learned man and a responsible and farsighted sovereign. There is also a scroll of parchment that emphasizes this intention. The aquiline nose, which does not appear as pronounced in other portraits, denotes magnanimity, according to ancient treatises on physiognomy. At the same time, the artist wanted to provide a conciliating and relaxing counterbalance to the severe expression of the face (which was also emphasized by the heavy black garment edged with a gold brocade and by the black cloak thrown over his left shoulder) by painting the beautiful hands resting on the window sill with great finesse. Perhaps the unusual portrayal of the prince can be explained more simply as Durer's attempt to express in painting ancient theories of physiognomy.


Portrait of Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony
1496
Staatliche Museen, Berlin


Portrait of Durer's Father at 70

The city of Nuremberg consigned the portrait to Howard Earl of Arundel in 1636, along with the Self-Portrait with Gloves of 1498 (today in the Prado in Madrid), as a diptych, to be given to King Charles I of England.
On the verso of the panel, visible traces of handwriting bear witness to the date of donation: 18 March 1637 (Oliver Millar, Walpole Society 37, 1958-60). The National Gallery acquired it in 1904 from the Marquise of Northampton. After his first trip to Italy, Durer painted his father a second time (for the first portrait, see Portrait of Durer's Father, 1490). Seven years separate the painting of the first and the second portraits, and despite the fact that his father had aged and his wrinkles had deepened, in the later image he looks more vivid and more spontaneous than in the first, dated 1490. The difference shows how much Durer's art had matured in these seven years, and how his sensibilities and his abilities to penetrate the human character and to show it in painting had grown sharper. The weak color of the background reveals that that part of the portrait was probably not finished, but the posture of the head demonstrates that the master intended to create a portrait of his father that was characteristic and representative.
The light does not fall directly on his face; rather, one almost has the impression that it radiates from the head, the high forehead, the delicate cheeks, the thin lips, the pronounced chin, and the neck. The master shows a shadow on only one side of the face, with a darker tone on the cheek. The clear expression of the face, with the small and attentive eyes directed to the painter and to the observer, is highlighted by the brown beret, which, with the two side flaps lifted, shows a wide forehead.
Durer's talent for observation makes this painting, which was executed with a very fine brush, a masterpiece of intuition, psychological penetration, and great personal affection. The serious gaze of this man, revealing the great peace of mind attained through the trials of life, directs itself, with a certain pride, at the son who stands before him.
Such immediacy of expression would not have been possible for the painter to achieve for a commissioned portrait; it results from the close relationship Durer had with the person before him, his father. It would be difficult for him to achieve such a sense of immediacy and spontaneity in any future portraits.
Various documents prove that this work was included with the self-portrait of Durer of 1498 within a single frame, that is, when they were both still property of the city council of Nuremberg, and when they were part of the collection of Charles I of England. It is a unique example among typical diptychs, which were always composed of separate portraits of a married couple.
Even if the scale of these portraits more or less corresponds, their backdrops do not harmonize formally or chromatically. In addition, they were painted a year apart from each other.
We do not know if it was Durer himself who framed them together to demonstrate his affection for his father, or whether it was the council of Nuremberg that wanted this framing (described in an inventory of 1625) to give homage to the city's most famous son and to his father, a well-known and respected goldsmith.


Portrait of Durer's Father at 70
1497
National Gallery, London


Portrait of a Young Furleger with Loose Hair

This portrait, together with the following one, forms part of a rather uncommon diptych. The coats of arms, added shortly after and placed on the external side beside the portraits, were those of the same family, even though the coats of arms are different: one has a cross between two fish, the other an upside-down lily. The emperor Sigismund had authorized the families of ecclesiastic members to add a cross to their own coats of arms. For this reason, it was deduced that the young woman portrayed with loose hair, the coral bracelet, the hands joined in prayer, and her head bowed down had devoted herself to the cloistered life. The Latin inscription added to the engraving Wenzel Hollar modeled on this painting, also recommended following in the path of Christ.
The very fine brushstrokes of this exquisite painting and the sharp distinction between the areas in light and those in shadow give the face a sense of plasticity, endowing it with a particularly vivid expression. Fritz Grossmann demonstrated, in an essay from 1944 in Burlington Magazine, that this and the following portrait truly formed a pair of portraits and that they were acquired together in 1636 in Nuremberg by the count of Arundel, whose engraver, Wenzel Hollar, made two engravings modeled from them. It should be noted that the young woman with the loose hair also rests her arms on a window sill.
In 1673, the portraits were acquired, together as always, by the bishop of Olmiitz, from whom they later went on to Carl von Waagen, of Munich. Afterward, the two portraits were separated.



Portrait of a Young Furleger with Loose Hair
1497
Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt

Portrait of a Young Furleger with Her Hair Done Up

When the portraits were still together, they passed on from Carl von Waagen to other owners, until it alone was finally acquired by the museums of Berlin in 1977. The various restorations have partially or entirely destroyed areas of the landscape and the inscription on the card at the top; the same holds true for the small statue of the prophet, inserted in the window post, which, from the side, looked toward the other portrait and in whose book Durer had written his monogram, as Wenzel Hollar's engraving shows. At one time, the two portraits were considered to be two representations of the same person, namely, Katharina Furleger. The series of letters on the trim of the blouse also seemed to point to this; however, they are probably the initials of a motto. Today, it is generally believed that they are portraits of two younger sisters of the Furleger family. The portrait, along with the following one, acts as part of a fairly uncommon diptych; it is the representation of the two Furleger sisters of Nuremberg. In contrast to the other young woman, depicted with loose hair, this one—an eighteen-year-old, according to the inscription-wears her hair in large braids wrapped around her head, a sign that she opted for marriage. Her defiant gaze is also proof of this. Similarly allude the sprigs of sea holly (Eryngium campestre) and Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum), symbols of conjugal fidelity and eroticism, which she holds in her hand. Note that one of the portraits has a neutral background, while the other has a window with a landscape scene. One interpretation could be that one of the young women renounces the world, while the other welcomes it openly. In both figures, Durer reveals pathologic symptoms: the young woman with the loose hair has goiter, and the two of them show signs of arthritis in their hands.


Portrait of a Young Furleger with Her Hair Done Up
1497
Staatliche Museen, Berlin


Portrait of a Man

Heinz Kisters acquired this painting in 1952 from the antique market in London. The state of preservation, following the removal of one layer of a painting that had been painted over it, appears relatively good. The painting has been included among the Durer's original works by Fedja Anzelewsky (1991), who compares it with the Portrait of Durer's father of 1497.
The contrast between the internal strength that emanates from his face, and the wisdom and foresight in his eyes, on the one hand—and the messy and wild hair, on the other, effectively demonstrates the breadth of Durer's skills as a painter, even if the completely distorted perspective of the left shoulder remains inexplicable.



Portrait of a Man
1497-98
Heinz Kisters Collection, Kreuzlingen

 
 
 

 
 
 
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