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Who is... Albrecht Dürer?

"Woman's Bathhouse," 1496, ink drawing

ALBRECT DURER was born on May 21, 1471, in Nuremberg (Germany) to a Hungarian goldsmith. Dürer worked as an apprentice to his father in 1485 and made his first self-portrait when he was 13. On the left of the picture, Dürer inscribed, "This I drew, using a mirror; it is my own likeness in the year 1484, when I was still a child."

That was just the beginning of an illustrious career where Dürer excelled as painter, printmaker, draughtsman, goldsmith, musician and art theorist. His body of work includes altarpieces and religious works, numerous portraits and self-portraits and copper engravings. He was a designer and studied anatomy, mathematics, proportions, and perspective and completed a manual of geometry. He was also one of the first to use tempera and oil glaze. His work on the theory of proportion - The Four Books on Human Proportions - was published posthumously.


If one were to place Dürer in a time line, it would be Northern Renaissance. Dürer travelled extensively including trips to Italy in 1494 and 1505 - 7 and to Antwerp and the Low Countries in 1520 - 1. Umberto Fortis commenting on Durer's travels In The Uffizi: A Guide to the Gallery wrote, he fused "the Gothic traditions of the North with the achievements in perspective, volumetric and plastic handling of forms and colour of the Italians in an original synthesis which was to have great influence with the Italian Mannerists."

Nature's child

While Dürer believed very strongly in the logical, he had a child's fascination for the fantastic. He reproduced a rhinoceros from a pamphlet and his works invariably featured animals. He set great store for nature as he wrote, "Life in nature makes us recognise the truth of these things, so look at it diligently, follow it, and do not turn away from nature to your own good thoughts. For verily art is embedded in nature; whoever can draw her out, has her."

Dürer rejected gothic art and philosophy and is considered the first great protestant painter. Dürer called Martin Luther, "That Christian man who has helped me out of great anxieties."

Dürer married Agnes Fray, the daughter of a highly respected coppersmith, on June 7, 1494 - the marriage was arranged. There seems no love lost between the two as during the great plague, Dürer left his wife in the city. After the plague however, Dürer returned to work with his wife.

Dürer died on April 6, 1528 in Nuremberg and the epitaph by his friend Willibald Pricheimer on his grave is an apt summation of a life less ordinary - "Whatever is mortal in Albrecht Dürer lies beneath this mound."


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