Dürer (May 21, 1471 - April 6, 1528) was a German painter, wood
carver, engraver, and mathematician. He is best known for his woodcuts
in series, including the Apocalypse (1498), two series on the crucifixion
of Christ, the Great Passion (1498-1510) and the Little Passion (1510-11)
as well as many of his individual prints, such as Knight, Death, and
the Devil (1513) and Melancholia I (1514).
Early life in Nuremberg
Dürer was born in Nuremberg. His family came from Hungary, germanizing
the family name of Thürer when they settled in Nuremberg soon after
the middle of the 15th century. His father, also called Albrecht, was
a goldsmith and served as assistant to Hieronymus Helfer, and in 1468
married his daughter Barbara. They had eighteen children, of whom Albrecht
was the second. Albrecht's brother, Hans Dürer, also became a renowned
At the age of fifteen Dürer was apprenticed to the principal painter
of the town, Michael Wolgemut, a prolific if undistinguished producer
of small works in the late Gothic style. Dürer learned not only
painting but also wood carving and elementary copper engraving under
Wolgemut. At the end of his apprenticeship in 1490 he travelled (the
so-called Wanderjahre). In 1492 he arrived in Colmar, intending to study
under Martin Schöngauer, a well regarded painter-engraver of his
time. He found that Schongauer had died the previous year, but he was
received kindly by the family of the deceased master there and in Basel.
Under them he evidently had some practice both in metal-engraving and
in furnishing designs for the woodcutter. He left Basel some time in
1494 and travelled briefly in the Low Countries before he returned to
Nuremberg. From this period, little of the work that can be attributed
to him with certainty survives, though several of the illustrations
of the Nuremberg Chronicle are sometimes attributed to him. fdsfa
On July 9, 1494
Dürer was married, according to an arrangement made during his
absence, to Agnes Frey, the daughter of a local merchant. His relationship
with his wife is unclear and her reputation has suffered from a posthumous
assault by Dürer's friends. He did not remain in Nuremberg long;
in the autumn of 1494 he travelled to Italy, leaving his wife at Nuremberg.
He went to Venice, evidence of his travels being derived from drawings
and engravings that are closely linked to existing northern Italian
works by Mantegna, Antonio Pollaiuolo, Lorenzo di Credi and others.
Some time in 1495 Dürer must have returned to Nuremberg, where
he seems to have lived and worked for possibly the next ten years, producing
most of his notable prints.
Return to Nuremberg
During the first few years from 1495 onwards he worked in the established
Germanic and northern forms but was open to the influences of the Renaissance.
His best works in this period were for wood-block printing, typical
scenes of popular devotion developed into his famous series of sixteen
great designs for the Apocalypse, first carved in 1498. Counterpointed
with the first seven of scenes of the Great Passion in the same year,
and a little later a series of eleven on the Holy Family and of saints.
Around 1504-1505 he carved the first seventeen of a set illustrating
the life of the Virgin. Neither these nor the Great Passion were published
till several years later.
himself in the more finely detailed and expensive copper-engraving.
He attempted no subjects of the scale of his woodcuts, but produced
a number of Madonnas, single figures from scripture or of the saints,
some nude mythologies, and groups, sometimes satirical, of ordinary
people. The Venetian artist Jacopo de Barbari, whom Dürer had met
in Venice, came to Nuremberg for a while in 1500. He influenced Dürer
with the new developments in perspective, anatomy and proportion, from
which Dürer began his own studies. A series of extant drawings
show Dürer's experiments in human proportion, up to the famous
engraving of Adam and Eve (1504) which showed his firm and detailed
grasp of landscape had extended into the quality of flesh surfaces by
the subtlest use of the graving-tool known to him. Two or three other
technical masterpieces were produced up to 1505, when he made a second
visit to Italy.
Second visit to
In Italy he turned his hand to painting, at first producing a series
of works by tempera-painting on linen, including portraits and altarpieces,
notably the Paumgartner altarpiece and the Adoration of the Magi. In
early 1506 he returned to Venice, and stayed there until the spring
of 1507. The occasion of this journey has been erroneously stated by
Vasari. Dürer's engravings had by this time attained great popularity
and had begun to be copied. In Venice he was given a valuable commission
from the emigrant German community for the church of St. Bartholomew.
The picture painted by Dürer was closer to the Italian style -
the Adoration of the Virgin, also known as the Feast of Rose Garlands;
it was subsequently acquired by the Emperor Rudolf II and taken to Prague.
Other paintings Dürer produced in Venice include The Virgin and
Child with the Goldfinch, a Christ disputing with the Doctors (apparently
produced in a mere five days) and a number of smaller works.
Nuremberg and the
Adam and Eve, 1507, Oil on PanelDespite the regard in which he was held
by the Venetians, Dürer was back in Nuremberg by mid-1507. He remained
in Germany until 1520. His reputation spread all over Europe. He was
on terms of friendship or friendly communication with all the masters
of the age, and Raphael held himself honored in exchanging drawings
The years between
his return from Venice and his journey to the Netherlands are commonly
divided according to the type of work with which he was principally
occupied. The first five years, 1507-1511, are pre-eminently the painting
years of his life. In them, working with a vast number of preliminary
drawings and studies, he produced what have been accounted his four
best works in painting - Adam and Eve (1507), Virgin with the Iris (1508),
the altarpiece the Assumption of the Virgin (1509), and the Adoration
of the Trinity by all the Saints (1511). During this period he also
completed the two woodcut series of the Great Passion and the Life of
the Virgin, both published in 1511 together with a second edition of
the Apocalypse series.
From 1511 to 1514,
Dürer concentrated on engraving, both on wood and copper, but especially
the latter. The major work he produced in this period was the thirty-seven
subjects of the Little Passion on wood, published first in 1511, and
a set of fifteen small copper-engravings on the same theme in 1512.
In 1513 and 1514 appeared the three most famous of Dürer's works
in copper-engraving, The Knight and Death (or simply The Knight, as
he called it, 1513), Melancolia and St Jerome in his Study (both 1514).
In the years leading
to 1520 he produced a wide range of works. Tempera on linen portraits
in 1516. Engravings on many subjects, experiments in etching on plates
of iron and zinc. A part of the Triumphal Gate and the Triumphal March
for the Emperor Maximilian. He also did the marginal decorations for
the Emperor's prayer-book and a portrait-drawing of the Emperor shortly
before his death in 1519.
Journey to the Netherlands
In the summer of 1520 the desire of Dürer to secure new patronage
following the death of Maximilian and an outbreak of sickness in Nuremberg,
gave occasion to his fourth and last journey. Together with his wife
and her maid he set out in July for the Netherlands in order to be present
at the coronation of the new Emperor Charles V. He journeyed by the
Rhine, Cologne, and then to Antwerp, where he was well received and
produced numerous drawings in silverpoint, chalk or charcoal. Besides
going to Aachen for the coronation, he made excursions to Cologne, Nijmwegen,
's-Hertogenbosch, Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Zeeland. He finally returned
home in July 1521, having caught an undetermined illness which afflicted
him for the rest of his life.
Final years in Nuremberg
The title page of Vier Bücher von menschlicher Proportion (Four
Books of Human Proportion, 1528)Back in Nuremberg Dürer began work
on a series of religious pictures. Many preliminary sketches and studies
survive, but no paintings on the grand scale were ever carried out.
This was due in part to his declining health, but more because of the
time he gave to the preparation of his theoretical works on geometry
and perspective, proportion and fortification. Though having little
natural gift for writing, he worked hard to produce his works.
of this shift in emphasis was that in the last years of his life Dürer
produced, as an artist, comparatively little. In painting there was
a portrait of Hieronymus Holtzschuher, a Madonna and Child (1526) and
two panels showing St. John with St. Peter in front and Saint Paul with
St. Mark in the background. In copper-engraving Dürer's produced
only a number of portraits, those of the cardinal-elector of Mainz (The
Great Cardinal), Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony, and his friends
the humanist scholar Willibald Pirckheimer, Philipp Melanchthon and
Erasmus of Rotterdam.
Of his books, Dürer
succeeded in getting two finished and produced during his lifetime.
One on geometry and perspective, which was published at Nuremberg in
1525, and one on fortification, published in 1527. His work on human
proportion was brought out shortly after his death in 1528 at the age
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
Dürer was the second son of the goldsmith Albrecht Dürer the
Elder, who had left Hungary to settle in Nuremberg 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 Wohlgemut, 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.
as a journeyman probably took the young artist to the Netherlands, to
Alsace, and to Basle, Switzerland, where he completed his first authenticated
woodcut, a picture of St Jerome Curing the Lion (Kunstmuseum, Basle).
During 1493 or 1494 Dürer was in Strasbourg for a short time, returning
again to Basle 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
At the end of May 1494, Dürer returned to Nuremberg, 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.
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, Nuremberg). 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.
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 Large 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. 1498) and Hercules 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. 1502), 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 Nuremberg - 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, Christlike 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, once believed to belong to this altarpiece,
one of which depicts the Drummer and Piper and the other Job and His
Wife (Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne). However, the side panels belong
to the Jabach altarpiece, the cenral panel of which is lost.
Second journey to
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
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 Pirckheimer, 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."
the second Italian trip
By February 1507 at the latest, Dürer was back in Nuremberg, 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. 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
While in Nuremberg 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
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 St Anne with the Virgin and Child (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).
By July, the travelers
were back in Nuremberg, 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 Holy
Men (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.
in 1528 and was buried in the churchyard of Johanniskirchhof in Nuremberg.
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.
Born: 21 May 1471
in Imperial Free City of Nürnberg (now in Germany)
Died: 6 April 1528 in Imperial Free City of Nürnberg (now in Germany)
was the third son of Albrecht Dürer and Barbara Holfer. He was
one of their eighteen children. The Dürer family came from Hungary,
Albrecht Dürer senior being born there, and at this time the family
name was Ajtos. The name Ajtos means "door" in Hungarian and
when Dürer senior and his brothers came to Germany they chose the
name Türer which sounds like the German "Tür" meaning
door. The name changed to Dürer but Albrecht Dürer senior
always signed himself Türer rather than Dürer.
senior was a jeweller who had served his apprenticeship with Hieronymus
Holfer, and then married Holfer's daughter. Albrecht Dürer junior
wrote about his father and his upbringing
My father suffered
much and toiled painfully all his life, for he had no resources other
than the proceeds of his trade from which to support himself and his
wife and family. He led an honest, God-fearing life. His character was
gentle and patient. He was friendly towards all and full of gratitude
to his Maker. He cared little for society and nothing for worldly amusements.
A man of very few words and deeply pious, he paid great attention to
the religious education of his children. His most earnest hope was that
the high principles he instilled into their minds would render them
ever more worthy of divine protection and the sympathy of mankind. He
told us every day that we must love God and be honourable in our dealings
with our neighbours.
As a young boy Dürer
was educated at the Lateinschule in St Lorenz and he also worked in
his father's workshop learning the trade of a goldsmith and jeweller.
By the age of 13 he was already a skilled painter as seen from a self
portrait which he painted at that time. This was the first of many self-portraits
which Dürer painted and they provide a wonderful record. Here is
our collection of such self-portraits.
In 1486 Dürer
became an apprentice painter and woodcut designer to Michael Wolgemut,
the leading producer of altarpieces. After an apprenticeship of four
years, Dürer had learnt all he could from Wolgemut and had reached
a level of artistic quality exceeding that of his famous teacher. Wolgemut
advised Dürer to travel to widen his experience and meet other
artists. Following Wolgemut's advice, Dürer delayed visiting Italy
(which Wolgemut himself never visited), where there were very different
artistic styles, until he had fully developed his own style and learnt
more techniques from other German artists.
first to Nördlingen, where he met artists of the Swabian school.
The Swabian style had been influenced by Dutch artistic design which
Dürer had not met before. His next visit was to Ulm where he met
more artists of the Swabian school.
with keen enjoyment in the discussions among artists of his own age,
in the low-ceilinged taverns, over foaming mugs of beer. These youthful
enthusiasts, in common with those of all nations throughout history,
were bent on rejuvenation of the art of the world. They were delighted
with Dürer's drawings, with his first engravings and the small
pictures he had already painted, independently of Wolgemut's directions
Leaving Ulm, Dürer
made his way to Constance which charmed him with its fairyland appearance.
Basel was the next town which Dürer visited, and he found it quite
similar to his home town of Nürnberg. Finally Dürer returned
home, making visits to Colmar and Strasbourg on the way.
It had been a long
journey of great importance to Dürer which had taken nearly four
years, but after he returned to Nürnberg in 1494 he felt disappointed
that he had not visited Italy. He had also become convinced that
... the new art
must be based upon science - in particular, upon mathematics, as the
most exact, logical, and graphically constructive of the sciences.
Italy was not only
a country with new ideas to offer Dürer in art, but it was also
leading the world at this time in the revival of mathematics. Before
setting out for Italy, however, Dürer married Agnes Frey, the daughter
of a learned man Hans Frey who had made quite a lot of money through
making jewellery, musical instruments, and mechanical devices.
The marriage seems
to have been more the idea of the parents of Agnes and Albrecht, and
the pair were married on 7 July 1494. It was a marriage which helped
raise Dürer's status in Nürnberg, as well as provide him with
money which helped him set up his own studio.
Before the end of
1494, Dürer was on his travels again, leaving Agnes behind in Nürnberg.
First he visited Augsburg where he met strong Italian artistic influences
for the first time. Travelling through the Tyrol, he reached Trento
and his first view of Italy.
He travelled on
to Verona before reaching Venice which was his main objective. In Venice,
Dürer, as he had done throughout his journeys, sketched scenes,
visited galleries and churches, and met with the local artists. One
of the artists that he met in Venice, Giovanni Bellini, had an important
influence on Dürer for :-
... everything that
[Venice] could teach him was to be found in Giovanni's paintings. He
cultivated the artist's society, therefore, with a devotion both impassioned
and deferential, retaining throughout his life, with his whole heart
and soul, unbounded feelings of gratitude to the man whose pictures
had unveiled so wonderful a world to him.
to Nürnberg in 1495, and although he does not seem to have met
with any of the major Italian mathematicians on his journeys, he did
meet Jacopo de Barbari who told him of the mathematical work of Pacioli
and its importance to the theory of beauty and art. Nor did Dürer
meet with Leonardo da Vinci while in Italy, but he learnt of the importance
which that artist placed in mathematics. Back in Nürnberg, Dürer
began a serious study of mathematics. He read Euclid's Elements and
the important treatise De architectura (On Architecture) by Vitruvius
(1st century BC), the famous Roman architect and engineer. He also became
familiar with the work of Alberti and Pacioli on mathematics and art,
in particular work on proportion.
It was not only
this scientific approach to art that influenced Dürer as he began
his artistic career in Nürnberg, but he also benefited from seeing
different artistic styles and the different scenery which he had viewed
The variety of regions
through which Dürer had passed in the course of his travels and
the care he had taken with the drawings and water-colours he had made
of the most attractive or unfamiliar of them had provided him with a
great range of pictorial motives emanating from the most diverse sources.
In 1495 Dürer
was still not well known as an artist in the highest circles but news
of his skill reached Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, and Dürer
was commissioned to paint his portrait. Frederick liked his portrait
which Dürer painted in April 1496 when Frederick had visited Nürnberg.
Despite Frederick's attempts to persuade Dürer to move to Weimar
and become Court painter, the artist did not wish to leave Nürnberg.
He was deeply attached to Nürnberg, painting these views of the
city in 1497.
From about 1500
Dürer's art showed the influence of the mathematical theory of
proportion which he continued to spend so much time studying. It is
claimed that his self-portrait in a wig made in 1500 has the dimensions
of the head constructed proportionally. For the engraving Adam and Eve
made in 1504, Dürer described the intricate ruler and compass constructions
which he made to construct the figures. It was not only the mathematical
theory of proportion which influenced Dürer's art at this period,
but also his mastery of perspective through his study of geometry. This
is most clearly seen in his woodcuts Life of the Virgin made between
1502 and 1505.
During the ten years
after 1496 Dürer went from a relatively unknown artist to someone
with a wide reputation as both an artist and a mathematician. His personal
circumstances had changed greatly. His father had died in 1502 and Dürer
was left to care for his invalid, and nearly blind, mother. He had set
up his own printing press while he, or often his wife, sold his works
to buyers at local fairs. It was a difficult life and one in which Dürer's
health began to suffer. In fact he would never regain full health during
the rest of his life.
From 1505 to 1507
Dürer made a second visit to Italy, spending much time again in
Venice. It was a very different visit from his first, with Dürer
now more interested in his international fame than in learning about
art. He was so conscious of his fame, and the threat he perceived that
he might hold to the local artists, that :-
... he refused invitations
to dinner in case someone should try to poison him.
It was not about art that Dürer now wished to learn from the Italians,
but rather about mathematics. He visited Bologna to meet with Pacioli
whom he considered held the mathematical secrets of art. He also visited
Jacopo de Barbari and the great efforts which Dürer made to meet
de Barbari shows the importance which Dürer more and more attached
to mathematical knowledge. Dürer returned to Nürnberg from
this second visit to Italy feeling that he must delve yet more deeply
into the study of mathematics.
In about 1508 Dürer
began to collect material for a major work on mathematics and its applications
to the arts. This work would never be finished but Dürer did use
parts of the material in later published work. He continued to produce
art of outstanding quality, and he produced one of his most famous engravings
Melancholia in 1514.
for Maximilian I, the Holy Roman emperor, from about 1512. Maximilian,
however, had little in the way of wealth to pay for Dürer's work
and he asked the councillors of Nürnberg to exempt Dürer from
taxes as compensation. He then asked the councillors to pay Dürer
a pension on his behalf, which certainly did not please them. From about
1515 the councillors tried to avoid paying this pension. Dürer
met Maximilian personally for the first time in 1518 and, probably from
one sitting in Augsburg, painted Maximilian's portrait. The following
year Maximilian died and this was the final excuse for the councillors
to refuse to make any further payment, saying that the new emperor Charles
would have to agree to the pension.
was fairly well off by this time and the pension was not necessary for
him, it was more a matter of prestige to have his pension restored.
He set off for Antwerp on 15 July 1520 with his wife and their maid
to visit the Emperor Charles V. Passing through Aachen, Dürer sketched
the cathedral at Aachen.
Dürer had a
second reason for this visit to the Netherlands, for he believed that
Maximilian's daughter had a book by Jacopo de Barbari on applications
of mathematics to art, and Dürer had long sought the truths which
he believed this work contained. On meeting Maximilian's daughter he
offered her the portrait of her father which he had painted, but was
distressed to find that she did not want the portrait. She had already
given the book by Jacopo de Barbari to another artist so Dürer's
quest was in vain. He did persuade Charles V to restore his pension,
however, which was formally agreed on 12 November 1520.
to Nürnberg, Dürer's health became still worse. He did not
slacken his work on either mathematics or painting but most of his effort
went into his work Treatise on proportion. Although it was completed
in 1523, Dürer realised that it required mathematical knowledge
which went well beyond what any reader could be expected to have, so
he decided to write a more elementary text. He published this more elementary
treatise, in four books, in 1525 publishing the work through his own
This treatise, Unterweisung
der Messung mit dem Zirkel und Richtscheit, is the first mathematics
book published in German (if one discounts an earlier commercial arithmetic
book) and places Dürer as one of the most important of the Renaissance
In the second book
he gave exact and approximate methods to construct regular polygons.
Dürer's constructions of regular polygons with 5, 7, 9, 11 and
13 sides is discussed in . Dürer also gave approximate methods
to square the circle using ruler and compass constructions in this book.
A method to obtain a good approximation to the trisector of an angle
by Euclidean construction is also given.
Book three considers
pyramids, cylinders and other solid bodies. The second part of this
book studies sundials and other astronomical instruments. The final
book studies the five Platonic solids as well as the semi-regular Archimedean
solids. Also in this book is Dürer's theory of shadows and an introduction
to the theory of perspective.
In 1527 Dürer
published another work, this time on fortifications. There were strong
reasons why he produced a work on fortifications at this time, for the
people of Germany were in fear of an invasion by the Turks. Many cities,
including Nürnberg, would improve their fortifications using the
methods set out by Dürer in this book. Dürer's final masterpiece
was his Treatise on proportion which was at the proof stage at the time
of his death.
originated with Dürer in this work although it was only put on
a sound mathematical basis in later work of Monge. One of the methods
of overcoming the problems of projection, and describing the movement
of bodies in space, is descriptive geometry. Dürer's remarkable
achievement was through applying mathematics to art, he developed such
fundamentally new and important ideas within mathematics itself.