May 21st in German History: The Birth of Albrecht Dürer

Albrecht Dürer.

While history classes often do cover the Renaissance in some level of detail, the study of it generally focuses on the Italian Renaissance. The Northern Renaissance may be mentioned, but far more time is spent on names like Michelangelo, Raphael, or Botticelli than on Eyck or Bruegel the Elder. One of the most important figures that is not covered in enough detail is Albrecht Dürer. He was a German painter, print maker, and theorist who was a central figure of the German Renaissance.

Albrecht Dürer was born in Nuremberg on the 21st of May, 1471, His father was a goldsmith and he had many siblings. At the age of 15 Dürer was apprenticed to a print maker, Michael Wolgemut, and there learned more about illustration and printing. In 1490, after completing his apprenticeship, Dürer left for four years to study abroad. He traveled to various cities around Germany and the Netherlands, learning from various artists. When he returned home he married Agnes Frey in accordance with an arrangement made by his family. He went to Italy in 1494 to study art forms in Venice. He returned to Nuremberg in 1495 and there opened his own workshop. He made prints and carvings that combined Italian and German influences. Notable works include The Prodigal Son, Nemesis, and Young Hare. In 1505 he again journeyed to Venice where he made the alter piece for The Church of San Bartolomeo, among other works. Dürer had become famous by that point and returned to Nuremberg in spite of the high regard in which Venice held him. Dürer made some of his most famous work in Nuremberg from 1507 to 1520. He made pen and ink drawings in addition to woodblock prints and paintings. Some famous works are Adam and Eve, Woodcut of a Rhinoceros, and St. Jerome in His Study. Dürer’s main patron was Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian the First. From 1520 to 1521 he traveled to the Netherlands and continued to work. He painted the portrait of the King of Denmark while in Brussels and was awestruck when he saw treasure the Spanish had looted from the Aztecs. He returned to Nuremberg and made several grand religious-themed works. Dürer died in 1527 at the age of 56.

Albrecht Dürer was an influential and famous artist, perhaps the most important of the Northern Renaissance artists. His works were famous throughout Europe during his time and are still renowned today. Dürer advanced woodblock printing as a technique and would thus influence much of the later German Renaissance. He is even credited with the basic technique used in ray tracing in that one of his works showed the use of a grid line to create an image. Albrecht Dürer is an artist worth remembering, and one that should not be disregarded in favor of the more famous Italian Renaissance artists.

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