Albrecht Durer was born in Nurembourg in May 21, 1471. His father, Albrecht Durer was a goldsmith, he had come from Germany to Nurembourg in 1455 and married Barbara Holper. Barbara's father was Albrecht's master. Albrecht was his father's third son. He was named Albrecht because of a family tradition which he has been the third representative so far. Albrecht had three brothers named Laszlo, Albrecht, and Ajtos. Albrecht was apprenticed to his father at the age of 13. His father introduced him to the working with metal and the use of tools with laid the ground work for his skill of engraving. He also learned painting from his father at the age of 13. He preferred to draw and paint than to goldsmithing. He painted a self portrait of himself at 13. This self-portrait took the careful and the accurate work of all of the details to some him his artistic talent.-
In 1486, Albrecht's father sent him to learn painting and wood working from Michael Wolgemut. Michael Wolgemut was a spectacular painter and woodcut illustrator. In Michael W.'s busy shop Albrecht learned the fundamentals of drawing, painting, and wood cutting. Albrecht also helped Micheal W. make some illustrations for books. Michael W. probably took Albrecht to the Netherlands, Basel, Stratsbourg, and in 1492 to Colmar in Alsace. Albrecht spent so much time with him he called him his second father. His main attraction was to see the master, Martin Schongauer. Who at the time was the leading German graphic artist of the time. On the way there Albrecht found out the master had died. On his arrival Martin's brothers showed him prints, drawings, and Schongauer's perfect engraving's from the master's workshop. The prints, drawings, and engraving's had a big influence on Albrecht's work.
Albrecht then went to Basel to stay with another brother of Schongauer, who conducted a goldsmith workshop there. Basel was the center of graphic production and book publishing at the time. In Basel Albrecht made many contacts and contributed a signed woodcut for the title page of the Letters of St. Jerome. The success he had from this woodcut probably led to another commission in Basel. In the fall of 1493, Albrecht went to Stratsbourg where he continued to work for publishers.
In the end of May 1494 Albrecht returned to Nurembourg. In July 7, 1494 the 23 year old painter married Agnes Frey. Agnus was the daughter of a merchant. Not long after his marriage in the fall of 1494 he took his first trip to Italy. This visit enabled him to see his good friend Willard Pirckheimer who introduced Albrecht to humanist thought and classical literature.
Albrecht spent most of his time of his first trip in Venice, Italy. There he met Jacopo de'Barbari. de'Barbari whose figures constructed to geometrical methods and proportions inspired Albrecht to live a lifelong study of theoretical writings. In Venice, Albrecht made drawings of exotic figures, animals, and did nature studies.
On the ride home Albrecht made a abundant use of his water colors painting the landscape around the Alps. Albrecht returned to Nurembourg by the summer of 1495. With the return of his trip he produced a large amount of paintings and engraving's. Albrecht used the medium of engraving because that reflected his theoretical interests. From about 1500 Albrecht's concern for the problems of proportion and perspective increased. This action was probably caused by the fresh contacts with the Italian works and study of Vitruvius.
In 1502, after a long period of weakness Albrecht's father had died. His fathers death had shaken him up a tremendously. Soon after that Albrecht suffered from depression fits and tormenting dreams.,
His appetite for work had not been impaired due to his father. He continued to work like nothing had happened. The Adam and Eve painting in 1504 showed a lot of his techniques of engraving and the construction of geometrical methods of male and female figures. The painting Paumgartner Altarpiece shows a proportional emphasis on the view of proportions.
Throughout Albrecht's career he produced portraits of family, friends and patrons. Albrecht painted 2 important self-portraits called Prado Madrid and Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
In 1505, Albrecht drew Crowned Death on a Thin Horse, the plague epidemic inspired this painting. Because of this plague Albrecht immediately departured from Italy in the summer of 1505. At the age of 34 he was fully matured and successful with his career. After Albrecht stopped in Augsburg he went to Venice to develop his painting style. Although many people admired his paintings they said he was not as "antique" enough. Only Giovanni Bellini commended him of his work.
Albrecht's highest achievement at the time was Feast of the Rose Garlands, which was ordered by the German merchants in Venice. In this painting he combined the richness of Venetian color and the vast of Italian compositions.
Albrecht returned to his home of Nurembourg in February 1507. A long time patron, Frederick the Wise entitled him to paint an altarpiece showing the execution of 10,000 Christians by a Persian king. Albrecht had already made a woodcut of that subject but now he also painted it. For a couple of more years he continued to paint requests for people.
Albrecht started a series of wood cuts of The Life of the Virgin. These were a series of legendary stories about the virgin. Albrecht made his wood cuts and figures move easily in the third dimension
Albrecht's Life of the Virgin series agreed with his growing concern for geometric form. In his figures and wood cuts you can see the perfect work done with a ruler and compass. You can also see his admiration with the Platonic notion of the human figure. Platonic notion is the human body drawn with mathematical formulas. In his painting The Fall of Man Albrecht went through a hard time trying to achieve a geometrical figure of two beings known as man and woman. After many years of practicing geometrical figures Albrecht learned how to paint several strands of hair with just one stroke. Giovanni Bellini, one of Albrecht's admirer asked him to make a present of one of his brushes he draws the strands of hair with. Bellini was surprised when he saw the brush. Bellini said that the brissels must be separated or divided to draw several strands of hair at once. Albrecht said that he drew it with a form of symmetry.
In 1505, Nurembourg was hit with another plague sending bodies down the street in carts. In that late summer Albrecht left again to go to Venice. Albrecht left his wife behind and his assistants to take care of his shop. This time he did not have enough money to go so he had to borrow from Pirckheimer to make the journey. He traveled in luxury, this time he went with horses and a quantity of baggage that included his portraits he planned to sell. Albrecht sold most of his paintings to Italy. In Venice, Albrecht bought a Italian coat with the money he got from the paintings. He also took some dance lessons at a local school with a fine man he met. Albrecht met many new friends everywhere he went. Albrechts only disappointment of the trip was when he found some gray hairs on his head. Albrecht wrote to Pirckheimer saying to take care of his family and to lend money to his mom if she needed it. He also included to inform him to not make love to his wife.
Albrecht also told Perckheimer that he is not supposed to take drinks or eat from any of the Venetian painters because they all try to copy his work and they are my enemies.
In 1509, Albrecht returned home and was elected as a member of Nurembourg's Grand Council. This was a group of 200 men of wealth who sometimes added to their number fellow citizens who had distinguished themselves in other ways.
Albrecht's new position did not interfere with his artistic production. Back in his workshop he continued to work on the Fall of Man engraving. This engraving was the picture of Adam and Eve standing with the animals. Albrecht changed his method from geometrical construction to the first pair of human beings.
The year 1511 was very extraordinary for Albrecht. In that one year he published all of his greatest woodcut series like The Apocalypse, The Large Passion, and The Life of a Virgin.
In 1513, Albrecht was mainly concentrating on engraving. He made a charcoal engraved self-portrait of his mother with a personal, tender message. Albrecht was also busy making a huge woodcut Triumphal Procession and Triumphal Arch.
In July 1520, Albrecht and his wife took a trip to the Netherlands to see emperor, Charles V. He also had to find new markets for his work. Albrecht did not have good success in the Netherlands but he did meet fellow artists. Albrecht left within a year and produced a number of portrait engraving's in Nurembourg.
On April 6, 1528, the 57 year old died. At his death his theoretical treaties were not fully completed. Some of them were already published.
According to Albrecht, capturing the beauty of the human body is the most meaningful aim of art. But this cannot be realized without knowledge of proportion and anatomy, and only through geometry can be true beauty be known.
1. Russell, Francis, The World of Durer, Albrecht Durer, Time-Life Books, 1967, Pages 1-173
2. Brion, Marcel, Durer, Albrecht Durer, Tudor Publishing Company, 1960, 1-309
3. Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia/ Volume #8, Page 2906-2907