great art of painting was held in great esteem by powerful kings many centuries ago, for they made the outstanding artists
rich and honored them, considering such talent to be a creative thing like unto God."
Know as the "Leonardo of the North," Albrecht
Dürer was arguably the best northern European artist of his time. Dürer was a master of many medias
and was a great blend of the Germanic art traditions and the work habbits from the Italians. He was an extremely intelligent
man that was known as a painter, graphic artist, designer, and with is immense skill as engraving is considered by most to be the greatest printmaker of
all time. He enjoyed the study of mathematics, geography, and architecture; even writing dissertations on geometry, perspective
and proportion, fortification, and art theory. His art and art ideals would be admired by his contemporaries, most notably
Erasmus and Raphael Sanzio.
An Hungarian immigrant to Nuremberg, Germany, Dürer's father was
a goldsmith by trade. Young Dürer was also trained in the family craft. He was an apprentice to his father beginning at the
age of eleven. Catching on quickly, his father noticed his talent. In 1488, at the age of seventeen, he entered the workshop
of Michael Wolgemut, Nuremberg’s furthermost painter and woodcut printer.
After his formal training, Dürer moved around. Traveled between
Germany and Italy. When he returned home form Italy he brought with him the Italian ideas. He was called home by his father
who had arranged his marriage, which seems to have been an unhappy one. But he occupied his time by opening his own studio.
He was more into painting and devoted most of his studio time to the painted works. Soon others also appreciated his
skills at painting. In 1512, the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, appointed Dürer to his court of artists. It is said the
Dürer was Maximilian’s favorite of them all. This led to him being considered the most favored painter of the German
A painting that reflects his skills and talent as an artist is his Self-Portrait at 28. He was very concerned with his own image and created several self-portraits over his career.
Self-Portrait at 28
1500. Oil on panel. Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany
Although Dürer loved to paint, he was never as great at painting as he was at printing. He worked in several areas of print
media, including engraving, woodcut, and etching. Saying he was prolific does not even come
close to how amazing he was. There was an eight year span in his life, from about 1512 to about 1520, that he really stayed
focused on engraving. It was during this time that he made one of my favorite Dürer engravings; The Knight, Death, and the Devil. In this work, we see the knight on his horse, focused on his goal of reaching the city high in the mountains
(Heaven). The knight is victorious over his enemies, the Devil and Death. As the courageous knight moves past, Death, holding
an hour glass, as well as the Devil, a one horned beast holding a weapon, keep their eyes on the knight to take advantage
of any slip-up that may occur on his life journey. Over his career, Dürer is credited with creating some two hundred woodcuts
and a hundred line engravings (as well as many experimental works in drypoint and etchings on iron). If I had to say a favorite,
I would say my favorite of his engravings is his woodcut The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, however the most telling about the artist is the engraving Melencolia I. The winged figure is seated with his crown being pushed off his head by his thick hair. Some see this as one of Dürer's
self portraits. There are more symbols in this work than I could get into. Some of the major symbols
revolve around geometry, like the compass in the figures right hand. "And since geometry is the right
foundation of all painting, I have decided to teach its rudiments and principles to all youngsters eager for art." This
work has made its way into popular culture by way of Dan Brown's novel, The Lost Symbol. Brown writes about some of
the artworks ties to geometry, our world, and the Masons.
The Knight, Death, and the Devil
1513. Engraving. 10 X 7 inches.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
1498. Woodcut. 15¼ x 11 inches. Museum of Fine Art, Boston, Mass.
On a side trip to Zeeland, Germany to sketch a dead whale, Dürer caught a high fever and never recovered.
He continued to work through his sickness until his death in 1528. He was fifty-seven years old.