Albrecht Durer: German Painter
He was born in Nuremberg, Bavaria, in 1471, which is where he opened a workshop in 1494. Nuremberg was the centre of Dürer’s activity throughout his life.
He made two visits to Italy, the first at the end of his apprenticeship and the second some ten years later. He spent his time in Northern Italy, particularly Venice, where he became influenced by the work of Giovanni Bellini.
Apart from his Italian visits and a long journey to the Netherlands, he spent the whole of his life not far from his home base.
Dürer’s work combined German tradition and Italian influences, the proportion of each varying throughout his life. From Italy he learned to appreciate correct three-dimensional perspective and, above all, a feeling for the weight and bulk of the human figure.
However, after his second visit to Italy, Italian impressions threatened to swamp Dürer’s natural vision. Fortunately, he was able to avoid the danger and assimilate creatively the lessons he had learned.
Dürer excelled in portraiture, in which he remained comparatively free of Italian influence and which formed the bulk of his painting during his later years. His penetrating psychological insight, combined with a warm humanity, stamp his portraits with a modern spirit.
Dürer worked in one of the leading cultural centres of Germany and was always in the limelight. He learned the art of engraving at an early stage, which enabled him to produce prints of many of his works. These were widely distributed and meant that his influence was felt in the Netherlands, France, Spain, and even Italy itself.
Albrecht Dürer died in 1528 at the age of 57.
This dates from 1498 and is one of several self-portraits that Dürer painted during his early years as an artist. The emphasis is on elegance and refinement in both features and dress.
Adam and Eve
These panels were probably completed shortly after Dürer’s second visit to Italy in 1507 and are strongly Italianate. They can be seen in the Prado Gallery, Madrid.
The figures were probably not done directly from nature but reflect Dürer’s search for the ideal classical human figure. Indeed, when Dürer made engravings of the same subject he used ancient statues of Apollo and Venus as his models.
His attempt to endue nude figures with ideal proportions and appearance may be thought to have given them a certain artificiality, which certainly seems to be the case with the way Adam is holding an apple twig, complete with ripe apple, between forefinger and thumb – surely the weight of the apple would have made that impossible?
(Not only that, but there is the age-old question of whether Adam and Eve would have had navels!)
Madonna of the Rose Garlands
This is an altar panel in which Dürer sought to rival the Venetians in his use of colour. The composition and the central figures, especially the Virgin, Child and angels, are Italianate and betray the influence of Leonardo as well as Bellini.
The Four Apostles
This work dates from around 1526 and was Dürer’s last major work, being a gift to his native city of Nuremberg, painted on two panels.
This work, which has reminiscences of Bellini, shows how fully Dürer had assimilated the Italian influences and adapted them to his own style.
Each of the four heads has been endowed with a highly individualized character with different expressions. This has given rise to suggestions that the apostles are also depictions of the “four temperaments” – phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine and melancholic.