Albrecht Durer is best known for his woodcuts, although he was also a painter, printmaker, and mathematician. He established his reputation early in life, and he is generally regarded as one of the greatest artists of the Northern Renaissance.
Durer was the third child of fourteen born to his parents, Albrecht Durer the Elder and Barbara Holper. He began training to become a goldsmith, but Durer’s drawing talent earned him an apprenticeship with Michael Wolgemut in 1486. Durer completed his apprenticeship in 1492 and traveled to Basel, where he stayed with the goldsmith Georg Schongauer for the next two years. Durer’s family arranged his marriage to Agnes Frey during his absence from Nuremburg. Frey belonged to a prominent family in Nuremberg, and the two were married in 1494. Durer traveled extensively without his wife, and the couple had no children.
Durer spent the next year in Italy, where he primarily drew landscapes in watercolor. A few of these sketches still exist, and their influence can be seen in his later work, such as his engraving Nemesis. During this period, Durer also learned to design woodcuts, which were strongly influenced by the works of Martin Schongauer. Durer returned to Nuremberg in 1495 and opened a woodcutting workshop. He spent the next five years making woodcut prints with Northern forms that were greatly influenced by the Italian style. These works typically have religious themes, although The Men’s Bath House is a well-known secular work from this period. The Apocalypse is one of Durer’s best-known works, which is a series of sixteen prints dated 1498. He also engraved St. Michael Fighting the Dragon and seven prints of the Great Passion that same year. The Holy Family was a series of eleven prints that Durer created in 1499. Frederick III of Saxony commissioned Durer to create the polyptych The Seven Sorrows in 1496, although this work wasn’t completed until approximately 1500. Durer started Life of the Virgin around 1503 but didn’t complete this series of seventeen works for some years.
- Durer’s house in Nuremburg is now a museum and prominent landmark.
- Durer was on friendly terms with most of the major artists of his day, including Leonardo da Vinci.
- Durer’s sketch of a rhinoceros was used in textbooks for centuries after his death, although he never actually saw this animal.
Some Examples of Albrecht Durer’s Artwork