Cornaro crest

Albrecht Durer

Born: 21 May 1471, Nuernberg

Married: 1494, Agnes Frey, Nuernberg

Died: 6 April 1528, Nuernberg

ALBRECHT DURER, perhaps the greatest German artist of the Renaissance era, began his career in the Imperial Free City of Nuernberg with his father, a Hungarian goldsmith who had emigrated to Germany in 1455. Despite his goldsmith origins, however, by 1484 Durer had already begun painting. In 1486 he was apprenticed to the painter and printmaker Michael Wolgumut and began to work with woodcuts and copper engravings as well.

Beginning in 1490 Durer travelled widely for study, including trips to Italy in 1494 and 1505-7 and to Antwerp and the Low Countries in 1520-1. During his visit to Venice on his second Italian trip Durer was especially influenced by Giovanni Bellini and Bellini's brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna, each then near the end of his career. In The Uffizi: A Guide to the Gallery (Venice: Edizione Storti, 1980, p. 57) Umberto Fortis comments that Durer's journeys enabled him "to fuse the Gothic traditions of the North with the achievements in perspective, volumetric and plastic handling of forms, and color of the Italians in an original synthesis which was to have great influence with the Italian Mannerists."

The period between his Italian trips was one of great productivity and artistic growth, characterized by his publication, 1496-8, of a portfolio of woodcuts, The Apocalypse of St. John. Scholars have suggested that the portfolio may have been intended as a veiled expression of support for the Reformation, with Babylon used as a surrogate for Rome.

Beginning at least as early as 1512, Durer became portraitist to the rich and famous of his time, including Emperor Maximilian I, c. 1518, and Christian II of Denmark, 1521. Other sitters included Jacob Fugger and other prominent merchants, clergy and government officials. An early chalk and watercolor portrait by Durer, 1494-5, appears to copy Gentile Bellini's profile painting, now lost, of Queen Caterina Cornaro (B-31) following her surrender of her throne in Cyprus and retirement to her native Venice. Shown here are Durer's own self-portraits at ages 22, 26 and 28 (now in the collections of the Louvre, Prado and Alte Pinakothek of Munich).

Durer expressed his theories on proportion in The Four Books on Human Proportions, published posthumously in 1528.

1997-9 C. I. Gable