Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528)

Albrecht Dürer was born on May 21, 1471, in Nuremberg, Germany, to Albrecht Dürer the Elder and Barbara Holper. He was the second of eighteen children, many of whom passed away in childhood.

When Dürer was thirteen, he became an apprentice to his father, a goldsmith. Two years later, he left the apprenticeship to become a painter, much to the displeasure of his father, who did not live to see him become famous in Germany and throughout Europe. Upon leaving his father’s tutelage, Dürer began a three-year apprenticeship under the painter and printmaker Michael Wolgemut (1434–1519) also in Nuremberg, an important center for book publishing. Dürer knew this budding industry firsthand through his godfather Anton Koberger (1440–1513), who printed and published the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493).

In his apprenticeship under Wolgemut, Dürer learned the art of woodcut, which at the time was used primarily for illustrated books. After this period of practical education, Dürer began his journeyman years and traveled to Basel, Switzerland, where he continued to make woodcuts for the book trade. In 1494, Dürer returned to Nuremberg where he married Agnes Frey and began an independent career as a painter and printmaker.

In the mid-1490s, Dürer concentrated on creating single-sheet engravings and woodcuts. His vivid imagination and technical mastery brought him great recognition and steady sales, and he was frequently commissioned throughout Europe to create painted altarpieces and portraits, including commissions for eminent figures like Emperor Maximilian I.

Though Dürer was a successful painter, he preferred the more lucrative medium of printmaking and the more personal art of drawing, both of which allowed him a greater degree of artistic freedom. A trip to Italy from 1505 to 1507 inspired Dürer to further his study of human proportion, linear perspective, and Humanism, intellectual pursuits that informed his art. Toward the end of his life, Dürer focused on his written legacy, which included treatises on human proportion, fortification, and geometry.

Dürer’s death in 1528 elicited accolades from far and wide, and today he remains among the most admired artists in the history of German art.

Lucas Kilian, after Hans Rottenhammer I, after Albrecht Dürer, Portrait of Dürer, 1608. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA
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