Albrecht Dürer, the famed German draftsman, painter, and writer, is best known for his exquisite, intricate woodcuts, engravings, and etchings, though he also created a number of oil paintings, watercolors and sketches during his lifetime.
Dürer was born on May 21, 1471 in Nuremberg, Germany, an artistic and cultural capital at the time of his birth. Dürer began his art education as a youth with his father, a successful goldsmith, who began teaching his son his trade, as well as drawing techniques. Dürer had a natural talent for fine art and his drawing ability afforded him an apprenticeship with Michael Wolgemut, a highly successful artist in Nuremberg, at age 15. It was in Wolgemut’s workshop that Dürer began to learn the printmaking techniques of woodcut and drypoint.
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Dürer traveled a great deal during his life, beginning after the completion of his apprenticeship in 1489. During his travels he studied the art and culture of the regions he visited and continued to develop his own style. His visits to Italy – the first of which took place in 1494 – perhaps had the greatest impression on him, with the classic Renaissance style of the art being created there, and the naturalistic ways in which proportion, perspective, and the human anatomy were being portrayed in these works.
Before the end of the decade, Dürer completed his renowned woodcut series, The Apocalypse (1498), “The Large Passion” (1497-1500), and began working on “Life of the Virgin” (1500-1510). The works were widely popular and heavily collected and Dürer’s reputation as a brilliant and talented artist continued to spread. His work was heralded in Italy, in his native Germany, and throughout Europe.
Dürer was an extremely prolific artist, creating numerous works in his lifetime. From 1500-1520 he created several prints in addition to paintings, portraits, and commissioned works. He also began to create burin engravings in copper during this highly productive period. Dürer was selected as the official court artist for the Roman Emperors Maximilian I and Charles V beginning in 1518 and he created a portrait for King Christian II of Denmark in 1521. Dürer traveled a great deal during this time, to Venice and the Netherlands, continuing to expand his experience and knowledge of the arts as expressed by other cultures and communities.
Dürer contracted an illness during his travels and even upon his return to Nuremberg in 1521 he would never fully recover. Though his artistic productivity waned at this time, he began writing the theories that inspired him regarding geometry, fortification, and human proportion: “Instructions on Measurement” (1525), “Fortifications of Towns,” “Castle and Large Villages” (1527), and “Four Books on Human Proportion” (1528). His “Instructions on Measurement” (also referred to as “The Painter’s Manual”) was the first German language book published for adults on the subject of math, and Four Books on “Human Proportion” remained a major art education text for years, even though Dürer did not have a formal education himself.
Albrecht Dürer died in his hometown, Nuremberg, in 1528 at age 56. His works are exhibited in public and private collections around the world, and his masterful prints continue to be widely collected today. Dürer’s name is included among art history’s Old Masters and he continues to be renowned for his innovative, skillfully-executed works.