Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528) had been the most important representative of the Northern Renaissance Art. In spite himself he understood as an artist in the Gothic tradition of the late Middle Age, his genius work and his role in art history had been similar with Leonardo da Vinci for the Southern Renaissance. In fact, Leonardo is the only artist, comparable with him. But Dürer had been more systematic and precise in his work. Even more, he achieved, that no one else did before or after him: with his name, the whole epoch of the late 15th Century and early 16th Century and its cultural blossoming is described as “Dürer age”.
He had been born on 21. May 1471 in Nürnberg, where his father moved around 1455 from Ajtó (Gyula) / Hungary. Albrecht had been the third of 18 children his mother gave birth to.
He worked hard and painstakingly. He had been religious and modest. And he had been a typical representative of the upcoming middle class of the early 16th Century. Albrecht Dürer breathed the air of the Free Imperial City (Freie Reichsstadt) Nürnberg. It had been filled with the spirit of liberty, humanism, philosophies, sciences and fine arts. In that time Nürnberg had been one of the largest cities in Europe and one of the wealthiest, because of its merchants trading with foreign countries. Inspired of this open atmosphere the young Albrecht Dürer travelled a lot, to Colmar, Basel and Strasbourg to meet Martin Schongauer, the most famous graphic by that time but as well to discuss with Humanists and Philosophers and to meet with the protestant ideas. Later, when Albrecht Dürer had been a member of the greater town assembly, it had been him, who initiated, that Nürnberg had been the first city in Germany following jointly the protestant movement of Martin Luther.
But as well Albrecht Dürer travelled to Italy and to the Netherlands to study there the big masterpieces of art and to take influences back home into his work. He had been called to Venice and Bologna to create woodcuts.
Dürer built a bridge between the arts in the South and in the North, between Gothic with its fine lines and strokes, and the Renaissance where deepness and perspective in the conception became important. Dürer learned a lot about drawing by the German artists Martin Schongauer and Michael Wohlgemuth. Under the influence of Dürers trips to Italy and meeting the art of Renaissance there, especially Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini, he included this in his style, developed it newly with the technics he learned. On his trip to Netherlands (1520 – 1521) he inspired Dutch and Flamish artists like Lucas van Leyden. On the other hand, Dürer inspired as well Italian artists like Raffael with the Northern technic . So the artist from Nürnberg became “the first truly international artist” (British Museum, London)
But this open minded man had been as well attracted by the upcoming sciences. Astrology and medicine came up. Dürer had been interested to study the human body in order to be able to draw right dimensions and propositions. It had been the time of humanism and therefore it is no wonder, that drawing and painting the human body had become important. And the renaissance time had been the time, diseases like the plaque had not been taking any more as a punishment by god. It had been seen as something must be possible to cure. In fact it had been forbidden, but Dürer and Leonardo studied the human body on examples of corpses. Since Gallileo Gallilei and Giordano Bruno and their discovery of the world as a turning ball, astronomy had become a totally new point of view. Still nowadays, when you visit in Nürnberg the Museum “Albrecht-Dürer-Haus”, his former residence in the center right below the castle, you will find on the backside of the museum under the roof a small windowsill just to support the telescope to observe the stars and planets and their tracks.
Within his broadness of skills and interests, Albrecht Dürers life had been destinated to become the most important German artist ever. He created:
- Ca. 1.100 drawings
- 34 water colors
- 108 copperplate engravings, this will be shown in the exhibition
- Ca. 246 wood cuts
- 188 paintings
In his work Dürer had been in many fields of arts the first, but his greatest achievements in the art-histroy are:
- He traced an important bridge in time from Gothic to Renaissance as well as in space from Southern to Northern Europe
- He had been the first German artist writing about himself
- He had been the first, who granted autonomy to the genre of self-portraits
- He carried watercolor paints to a technical and artistic height
- He carried copperplate engravings and woodcuts technical and artistic to height
- He had been the first, drawn nudes from life models
- He had been the first who underpin his work with treatises on artistic theory (in 1528, the year of his death, he concluded everything into 4 books titled “Lessons of painting”
After 1512 he concentrated on woodcuts and copper engravings. Even in his younger days, supported by his father, a goldsmith, he developed his own technic for copper engravings. For this, the knowledge of a goldsmith had been very helpful. It had been a revolution in art and even in printing history. The fine lines of the Gothic, only possible to create with tools and skills of a goldsmith, combined with fine hatchings, bringing natural light on the graphic had made him famous. Selling his prints had been a good business for Albrecht Dürer. His wife Agnes sold them on the main square in the ancient town. And: In times when the society is changing, communication is very well needed. And print technics like copper-engravings had been very much demanded in the early 16th century. Hans Holbein, Lukas Cranach and others more used it for spreading the ideas of Martin Luthers reformation.
Dürer brought into his engravings:
- Classical forms
- Perspective in describing the space
- Exact anatomic description of the nude human body
- That special athmospherical light
As well as in his paintings, in the engravings are the movements visible. Animals, persons, trees are in movement. And with this he is describing a certain mood of this moment. With the upcoming humanism as well the individuality of the people is developing. Discovering the humanity means in arts to describe personas in portraits and moods. This serious observing of the surrounding, painstaking noticing what Gods creation is offering, but always with a lyrical sound, this makes Albrecht Dürer so genius.
In his copper-engravings are many religious sceneries. Dürer wanted to get over the mystic of the late middle age. He had been always eager to describe religion in a language that makes it understandable for normal people.
For Albrecht Dürer had been in his works, but especially in the copper-engravings as a medium of communication, the focus on the people. Therefore it is not a wonder, that he got so famous during his life time and copied already (he had the first copyright process at the court against the Italian artist Marcantonio Raimondi, who copied his works and his signum).And it is no wonder that he is still admired by us. In time where we are aware, that the humanistic ideas are missing in our world.
The three Master-Engravings
In 1513/1514 Albrecht Dürer created maybe his best works in copper-engraving, the so called “Three Master Engravings”:
- The Knight, the Death and the Devil
- St. Jerome in his studies
- Melancolia 1
This work is an allegorical triptych of three virtues as they had been understood in the middle-age:
1. Determination and activity, described by the fearless Christian knight
2. Reflection and meditation, described by the peace of the theologian
3. The life of the secular spirit in the rational and irrational world (sciences and art), the melancholia is reminding us, that the hunger for knowing wisdom and knowing the future will never be satisfied
The three master-engravings are touching us especially, because they are created with a great symbolic that is not understandable for everyone, like the real life as well. The real life has its secrets and we are not able to decode them all. But this mystic aspect is growing in its relevance, because of the natural description of the figures. They seem to us normal. Dürers knowledge about the right propositions is coming to its fulfillment. And as well his knowledge about the technic how to treat the copperplate in order to create effects on the prints afterwards. The hatchings are clear and producing a special light. The Italian art historican Giorgio Vasari, who created ca. 1550 the word “Renaissance”, described it like that: “You can almost see the radiance of the armor and the black fur of the horse”
Working hard on new discoveries and improving his technics, Dürer had been still suffering on the effects of malaria. He catches the infection in the Dutch swamps during his stay there, as he wanted to see a whale caught. On the effects of this disease he died in April 1528 in his hometown Nürnberg.
What happened in the world during Dürers life 1471 - 1528
1482 Book printing is spread all over Europe
1486 Maximilan I. of Habsburg got elected as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of German
Nations (Heiliges Römische Reich Deutscher Nation)
1492 Columbus is discovering America
1497 Leonardo da Vinci “The Last Supper”
1498 Vasco de Gama is discovering the sea way to India
1500 Michelangelo “Pieta”
1502 Farmers revolution in Southern Germany because of high taxes
1502 Lukas Cranach “Crucifixion”
1503 Michelangelo “David”
1505 Franz von Taxis is opening the first post lines for letters
1506 Leonardo da Vinci “Mona Lisa”
1506 Bramante starts to build St. Peters Cathedrale in Rome
1508 Michelangelo is starting to paint the St. Sixtina chapel in Rome
1509 First ships with African slaves arriving America
1509 Peter Henlein in Nürnberg is presenting the first watch
1511 After 375 years of construction, the St. Stephan dome in Vienna is finished
1513 Niccolo Machiavelli is writing his book “Il Principe” and demanding in it the ruthless state
1517 Reformation of Martin Luther starts in Wittenberg / Germany
1524 Farmers war starts in Germany
1527 Sacco di Roma: Legionaries of Emperor Karl V. are plundering Rome
In this exhibition we are showing 108 copper engravings by Albrecht Dürer, drawn from the copperplates restaurated by Amand Durand, ca. 1865 in the Louvre in Paris. In that days the French Government gave order to the Chief Conservator to rescue the Dürer copper-engravings. Amand Durand as well restaurated artworks by Martin Schongauer, Lucas van Leyden, Rembrandt van Rijn and others. The restaurated Dürer works are showing all 108 copper engravings. They had been published in the Bibliotheque National Francaise, Paris by George Duplessis ca. 1865.
In addition to that, we are showing some woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer, drawn in the 19th century as well and two sculptures:
- The Code of Arms of Dürers family, woodcut, 1523 Albrecht Dürer used the the “speaking” code of arms of his father. The open door in the middle is possibly symbolizing that the family came from Ajtos in Hungary (that means in German “Thür”). It had been usual at this time to add to the First name the name of the place people came from. Dürers father translated it into German. The Franconian dialect in Nürnbeg is characterized by its very soft pronounciation, so people make out of “Thürer” then “Dürer”
- The Armillarsphere, woodcut, 1525, it shows the universe from the perspective of the Humanists: The world is the centre, the planets and the Zodiacs are surrounding the world in regular tracks. The constellation is the result of ancient Greek and Arabic mathematics. Dürer had been fascinated by it, and had been eager to bring this into a more modern thinking. So the distances to each other are calculated as a logarithmical curve of the so called “Fibonachi-Numbers”. Dürer had been the first who brought this on paper.
- The sculpture should show it in a 3 dimensional way (repilka)
- Studies of the Human bodies, woodcut, 1526 Dürer is describing more then thousands of body meassurements in his books about the right propositions of the Human body. It is not so important if they had been taken by life models, but indeed it is important to see how much Humanist artists like Dürer and even masters after him had been concentrated in measuring and observing the Human body
- “Nürnberger Ei” – The first pocket watch, invented by the locksmithsmith Peter Henlein (1485 – 1542, Nürnberg), a friend of Albrecht Dürer. In the early 15th Century Nürnberg had been one of the most modern cities in Europe. With increasing graduation of civilization, time measuring is getting shorter. So started by then the Church bells to ring every 15 min. And Peter Henlein had been the opinion everybody should be able anytime to check the time. Therefore he invented a clock “that had been able to run 40 hours does not matter if you wear it in the coat, the pocket or on your neck”. We are showing a replica from the “Dürer year 1971” produced by company Diehl, a company for time measurement-systems in Nürnberg