Albrecht Durer was a true Renaissance man. He was a painter, a printmaker, a draftsman, an art theorist, and a scholar. He is celebrated for representing both the sacred and the secular within his art. His vast artistic accomplishments extend from altarpieces and religious artistry, to his series of self-portraits and copper-engravings.
Durer was born in Nuremberg, Germany on May 21, 1471 as the third son of a Hungarian goldsmith.
His creativity was discovered at a young age. Durer’s meticulous techniques in engraving were learnt in the workshop of his father when he was a young boy. In 1486, Durer left his father’s workshop and became an apprentice to realistic Flemish painter Michael Wolgemuth.
Durer’s earliest recognized work as a painter was a self-portrait he produced at the age of thirteen. This self-portrait was the first in a series that continued throughout his life. This series of works is indicative of Durer’s deep sense of introspection and self-awareness. It is also important to note that these works were also quite innovative in his day, as he is the first artist known to have painted a self-portrait.
He completed a variety of works in his youth, such as portraits, coat-of-arms, and landscape sketches, and in 1494, at the age of 23, Durer established a studio of his own.
In 1498, Durer completed his second of three self-portraits. This painting of him, at 27 years of age, gives a distinct interpretation of who Albrecht Durer was. This portrait illustrates the persona behind the artist. His stylish and expensive costume can lead one to describe him as seeming an aristocratically arrogant and vain youth. Such consciousness of individuality was certainly an unusual preoccupation within the German artistry of his time.
Durer was said to have found more appreciation from the public abroad than at home. He first traveled to Venice and Bologna where he stayed and studied for two years. Through these travels he was able to study and be influenced by the art of Bellini, Schongauer, and Mantegna.
In 1505, he made a second trip to Italy. The Italian influence in his work can be seen in his reflections of the natural world. The drawings and watercolors produced in this time period are illustrative of plants and animals, and he also produced a series of Alpine landscapes in the course of his journey to Italy.
Durer found great success as an artist as his prints were widely distributed and well received throughout Europe.
During 1513 and 1514, Durer created the greatest of his copperplate engravings: Knight, St. Jerome in His Study, and Melencolia.
At this time the demand for altarpieces and portraits became greater. The public eagerly sought after his woodcuts and copper engravings. Some of these pieces include the Baumgartner altar painting, and the Lamentation of Christ. These pieces have been preserved in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.
Durer converted to Protestantism in 1519. His change of faith was reflected in his work of this later period, as some pieces included the doctrines of Luther, such as the woodcut of the Last Supper (1523).
In 1520, Durer went to the Netherlands where he was received as a recognized master. He was the first German artist to achieve a substantial amount of success and recognition outside of his native country.
Being true to the Renaissance period, he devoted a considerable amount time during these later years to writing and illustrating a book on the theories of art.
On April 6, 1528, Albrecht Durer died in Nuremburg, the place of his birth. Nonetheless, he left behind a legacy of artwork that continues to be widely recognized and appreciated centuries later.