Albrecht Dürer

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Datos principales

Tipo 
Pintor
Fecha nacimiento 
1471
Lugar nacimiento 
País nacimiento 
Fecha muerte 
1528
Estilos 
Escuelas 
Cargo 
Pintor

Desarrollo

Albrecht Dürer was one of the most outstanding artists of the Renaissance and represents the artistic innovations that took place outside Italy. He was a contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci and Bosch. Whilst Leonardo represented the model to which Dürer aspired all his life, with similar artistic achievements and interests, Bosch represented the opposite, influenced only by the art of the Netherlands, also in search of innovation but without going along the paths of Antiquity or Humanism. The name "Dürer" derives from the German word "Tür" which means "door". This was the meaning of Dürer's father's name Albrecht Atjos, of Hungarian origin. Dürer can also be found under the name Albertus Durerus Noricos. This was the formula the artist adopted after his visit Venice, which was when he decided to take on the cultured ways of the Renaissance Italians, who studied Greek and Latin in their attempt to recover the Ancient Greek and Roman culture. Noricus referred to his hometown of Nuremberg. In Spain his difficult German surname was hispanicised, and he was known as Alberto Durero. The most direct way of coming across Dürer's mark was in his paintings and engravings, which he signed with his monogram, an elegant A with the D of his surname inside. With these two initials he constructed a characteristic and aesthetic symbol, reproduced by those who copied his art, either in an attempt to emulate him or to forge his work. Dürer signed all his works, except those which he did not consider works of art. Given his high self-esteem this offers us an idea of what was considered art and what was not in his time. For example, he did not sign or make a note of the watercolour landscapes he did on his first journey to Italy. A landscape on its own was not enough in the 15th century and Dürer only did these watercolours as a reminder to use them later as backgrounds in his paintings. They were work tools not finished works. The same applied to certain drawings and sketches, especially those he did when he was very young. As his career progressed, his fame and success extended across Europe. In Italy studio drawings had the same value as the finished paintings. Dürer learnt this and when he reached maturity he signed and inscribed a motto on the first drawing he had kept, an accomplished silverpoint self-portrait done at the age of thirteen. Dürer's work is divided into two blocks: painting and graphic work (including his engravings, woodcuts and drawings). He left 90 paintings, 130 engravings, several hundred woodcuts and drawings and three books on art theory. Both his artistic facets are equally important. Being a graphic artist at that time meant being an expert in the most advanced techniques which were revolutionising the European culture world. Dürer was born in 1471. Woodcut had been discovered barely fifty years before. It was a technique that was still in its infancy which promised infinite possibilities regarding the dissemination of theories and artistic images and which would soon create its own language. Dürer was a pioneer, encouraged particularly by family circumstances. As we have said his father was Hungarian. He was a goldsmith and moved to Nuremberg because it was one of Germany's most important cultural centres. The city was a precious metals distribution centre, thanks to the mines in the region. The precious metals were controlled by the Fugger family, the Spanish Royal Family's bankers (where they were known as the Fúcares). Albrecht Atjos arrived in 1455 and opened his goldsmith's workshop straight away. In 1467, when he was forty, he married Barbara Holpere, a fifteen-year-old German girl. They had eighteen children over twenty-four years. Out of all of them, in 1524 only three had survived, all of them painters. The city of Nuremberg had imperial status and was governed by forty-two noble families, such as the Pirckheimers, the Landauers, the Hallers and the Benhaims, all of them Dürer's future patrons. The Pirckheimer family rented out houses on their estate, near their mansion. One of these houses was the home of the Dürers. Dürer met the Pirckheimers' eldest son, Willibald, who became his lifelong friend and patron. Dürer's family was part of the "ëhrbar" or honourable social class, below the forty-two ruling families but above the rest of the social classes in Nuremberg. On 21st April 1471 the Dürers' third child, Albrecht, was born, an event that is confirmed by brief entry in his father's diary. The child's godfather was A. Koberger. This was significant because Koberger was the most important printer in Nuremberg and therefore Dürer was able to learn the technique of printing and engraving from a very young age. When he was twelve he started to train in his father's goldsmith's workshop, learning the method of metal engraving. This method gave rise to the printing technique of engraving, and the leading engraver of the time was Martin Schongauer. Dürer's control of the burin, or engraver's chisel, can be appreciated in his early self-portrait, from 1484, a year after starting in the workshop. Dürer's father wanted him to learn the goldsmith's trade so that he could eventually take over the workshop. However, his son's early skill at drawing softened his father's attitude, allowing him to be apprenticed to Michael Wolgemut, the most important painter in Nuremberg. Wolgemut worked in the Flemish style of Rogier van der Weyden and Dieric Bouts. It is possible that Dürer's examination piece was the pair of portraits of his parents, of which only the one of his father has survived. They were paintings done in oil on wood panel and were the best work to have been painted in Nuremberg. The most important technique Dürer learnt during his time in Wolgemut's studio was woodcut. Wolgemut collaborated with Koberger, the printer, to produce books that combined text and images, separating the different tasks so that each one specialised in his own area. A feature that was to distinguish Dürer was his integration of text and images, an aspect which we will see more closely in his later works. Dürer worked in Wolgemut's workshop until 1489, when he decided that the time had come for him to complete his studies by travelling. This was a custom among artists who could afford it because it was a way for the apprentice to gain experience, contemplate works by great artists in other cities and make important contacts for later on in his career. The trip was called "Wander Jahre", which means "touring years". On 11th April 1490, Dürer left Nuremberg to go on a tour around the Low Countries and the Rhine region. Over the next two years he visited Nordlingen, Ulm, Colmar, Basel and Strasbourg. He met masters such as Hesdin, Konrad Witz and Hans Baldung Grien. However, he could not contact Martin Schongauer, who had died a short time before Dürer arrived in Colmar. Nevertheless, Schongauer's children received the apprentice and showed him their father's work. In 1493, after a few months in Strasbourg, the artist received news from his parents informing him of his arranged marriage to a wealthy young girl from Nuremberg, Agnes Frey. Dürer painted himself for the first time in oil. The image is very beautiful, an arrogant youth in the prime of life, holding a thistle in his hand, both a symbol of Christ and of masculine fidelity. However, the marriage was not especially happy. The disagreements started early on and only two months after the wedding Dürer left on another journey. This time his destination was Venice. The artist only knew of the Renaissance innovations through references and prints of the great artists' works. After having completed his theoretic apprenticeship with his journey around Germany, this was his opportunity to get to know the latest Venetian innovations firsthand. He left on 18th May 1494 and passed through the Tyrol, Alto Adagio, Mantua and Padua, where his friend, Willibald Pirckheimer, studied politics, law and humanism. When he arrived in Venice he saw paintings by Bellini and Mantegna and Pollaiuolo's engravings. The technique and above all the proportioned, naked figures impressed him greatly. He copied some and was inspired by classical statues to do his own experiments on perspective and proportion, two themes that became a lifelong interest and about which he wrote a book at the end of his life. His visit lasted for two years. On his return over the Alps he could not resist doing the previously mentioned watercolours of castles, beauty spots and panoramic views. In Venice he had drawn all kinds of objects that had attracted his attention: the lion of St. Mark's, a crab, the Venetian ladies' extravagant outfits and so on. All these studies constitute his best travel diary and later on he used the sketches in his paintings. He also learnt the technique of oil on canvas from the Venetians. Canvas was much quicker and easier to work on and was also much more economical than the wood panel generally used in Germany. By 1494 he had returned to Nuremberg, his training as an artist complete. He opened his own studio and one of his pupils was Baldung Grien. At this time Dürer's artistic productivity, both in painting and especially engraving, was very prolific. He transferred all the innovations he had learnt on his travels around Italy to his art, making it famous straight away among the townspeople and outside the city. He met his first important patron at this time: the powerful Elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise. Frederick was Luther's protector. The Elector travelled to Nuremberg and commissioned Dürer to paint his portrait and an altarpiece, which were the artist's first works on canvas. Further commissions came, especially portraits, such as those of the Tuchers, Oswolt Krell and the beautiful self-portrait, in which the artist portrays himself as a cultured gentleman, now at the Prado in Madrid. However, his most revolutionary work was the series of woodcuts illustrating the Apocalypse. They were done in 1498 and provided a contrast to another great masterpiece from the same year: Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, painted for Santa Maria delle Grazie. The year in which they were done is highly significant. According to millenarians, the year 1500 was when the Last Judgement would take place. Originally it had been thought that it would occur in 1000 but when this was proved not to be so it was moved to 1500. A number of catastrophic events incited people's terror. In 1492 (coinciding with the discovery of the New World) a meteorite fell on the town of Ensisheim. In 1495 Tiber burst its banks and Siamese twins were born in Worms. In the following year a pig with two bodies was born. Added to all this were the continual outbreaks of the plague that depleted the population, provoked massive exoduses and encouraged promiscuity in the face of death. Dürer, who was deeply religious, was very aware of all these catastrophes, which were closely related to the religious upheavals, proliferation of heresy and Luther's preaching which would later provoke the Protestant schism. The Apocalypse woodcuts introduce a number of innovations. For example it was the first time that Dürer used his famous AD monogram and also the first time that the text was aligned with the illustrations, creating a double narration, both literary and visual, which mutually enhanced each other. The book of the Apocalypse marked a high point in Dürer's career and his work started to be imitated everywhere. In 1500, obsessed with the theories of perspective and human proportions he got in touch with the Venetian painter, Jacopo de' Barbari, to receive guidance on these matters. The fruit of his efforts was the impressive front facing self-portrait, in which he physically equates himself with the image of Christ. In 1502 Dürer's father died and his mother went to live with him, until her death in 1514. Until 1505 Dürer continued painting brilliant works that enhanced his reputation even further, such as the Adoration of the Magi, completely italianised in its conception, although the human figures are clearly identifiable with the German aesthetic sphere. In 1505 there was another outbreak of the plague and Dürer left for a second visit to Venice. This time he was not a young painter who wished to complete his training and was received as a great artist, provoking jealousies and rivalries with the local artists (in his letters Dürer wrote of his fear of being poisoned) but great enthusiasm among the aristocracy. His first action in Venice was to initiate legal proceedings against Marcantonio Raimondi, who copied his engravings. The court condemned Raimondi to reproduce Dürer's monogram and not to copy anyone else, ensuring Dürer's fame spread even further. After this legal problem he received a commission from the church of San Bartolome, which was very important because it represented his public "graduation" in Venice. The painting was dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosary and the result confirms Dürer's immense artistic skill. The painting impressed the Doges of Venice. An inscription shows how much work Dürer dedicated to the painting, taking five months to finish it. After this success, the banking family, the Fuggers, received him as their guest, treating him as a gentleman. Dürer felt flattered and, conscious of the difference between an artist's position in Italy and Germany, wrote to his friend Willibald, "Oh, how I will miss the sun. Here I am a gentleman, at home I am a parasite". In the same year that he wrote these words he left for Bologna and Florence. There he saw works by his contemporary, Leonardo da Vinci, and was inspired by certain features. He also saw Raphael's early works, who was just embarking on his career at that time. From there he went on to Rome, where he only stayed for a short while. He returned to Venice and by way of a reply to his Virgin of the Rosary, he painted Jesus and the saints. In an inscription he boasts that the painting only took five days (failing to mention the long preparatory studies for the work). In this painting Dürer shows his command of colour and expressiveness, and introduces caricturesque elements that he had observed in Leonardo da Vinci's paintings. Now that he was an established artist in Venice, he returned to Nuremberg, where he constantly received commissions. He painted Adam and Eve, a practical treatise on the theories of human proportion, taken to the extreme in a work of art. He had the honour of becoming a member of the city's Grand Council. He did more and more engravings, which became even more exquisite: the Great Passion, the Life of the Virgin and the famous Triad of the Knight, Death and the Devil - where he takes the language of the engraving to its extreme -, St Jerome in his Study, and Melancholia I. In 1514, the Emperor Maximilian I took an interest in his work and commissioned him to do the blocks of woodcut for a print of a Triumphal Arch and those for his Book of Prayer, amongst other works. As a council delegate at the Assembly of Augsburg, Dürer met some of the Empire's most important figures and painted their portraits, including one of the Emperor himself. As a reward for the painting, Maximilian gave him a lifelong pension of 100 florins a year. However, the pension stopped after the Emperor's death in 1519. Dürer did not hesitate in going to the new emperor Charles V's travelling court to have it renewed. This last journey was a great success. He was accompanied by his wife for the first time. They left in 1520 and did not return to Nuremberg until the following year. They visited Bamberg, Frankfort, Cologne and Antwerp. In all these cities Dürer was received with honours and the artists' guilds invited him to banquets. He met Quintin Massys, Joos van Cleve and Joachim Patenier (who invited him to his wedding). In Malinas he met Margaret of Austria, Charles V's aunt, who showed Dürer her important art collection. In Brussels, he received an invitation from van Orley, who showed him objects that had just been brought over from America, such as feather work and gold, silver and emerald objects, all of which deeply impressed the painter. Dürer met Erasmus of Rotterdam and painted his portrait. The humanist knew of the artist, and said, "He really manages to represent what cannot be represented: rays of light, thunder, bolts of lightening... all manner of sensations and emotions: in short, the complete human spirit, as is reflected by the movements of the body and almost by the voice." He attended Charles V's coronation in Aachen on 23rd October 1520. He followed the court to Cologne, where at last he received his pension and had it renewed. He returned to Antwerp where he was informed that there was a beached whale on the coast at Zieikzee. He quickly set off to see it but by the time he arrived the whale had been set free. As a result of the trip he got malaria and was forced to return to Nuremberg, and he never recovered completely from the illness. The 1520s were when the religious tensions reached their peak in Germany, a fact which was echoed by Dürer. At the beginning of Luther's preachings, Dürer was enthusiastic about the spiritual renewal. Erasmus was another of his reference points. However, the rural disturbances that threatened the social order intensified towards 1525 with the ideological reinforcement provided by Lutheran teachings (who ended up detaching himself from the revolts to condemn them). The fruits of Dürer's religious and social anxieties were mainly the two panels of the Four Apostles and an impressive watercolour of a dream he had, in which he foresaw the end of the world. At the same time, he redecorated the Nuremberg Town Hall to mark the change of Emperor, and published his three books, one on geometry, one on human proportion and the other on fortification (like Leonardo da Vinci). Dürer died on 6th April 1528 and was buried in St John's cemetery. His friend, Willibald Pirckheimer wrote his epitaph, which says "In memory of Albretch Dürer. All that was mortal in him is buried beneath this mound".


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