- LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0039
- LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0039
Albrecht Dürer (21 May 1471–6 April 1528) was a German painter, graphic artist, author, publisher, and mathematician. He was also the only artist to have an entire epoch named after him: the Dürerzeit (c. 1490–1528). One of the greatest engravers in history, he was also the man who elevated woodcut to the status of fine art and was a superlative maker of drawings in a wide variety of media, including watercolor. His altarpieces and portraits in oil, except for the sumptuous Munich Self Portrait in Fur (1500), are less well known. Two of his most famous works are the brush drawing of Praying Hands—one of many studies for the lost Heller Altarpiece—and the gouache drawing of a Wild Hare (both in Vienna’s Albertina Museum). These, however, became well known only after the process of color reproduction was perfected. His contemporaries knew his art primarily through his large woodcut books—the Apocalypse, Life of Mary, and three versions of the Passion of Christ, and by his engravings of unprecedented refinement, including the three “master prints,” the Knight, Death and Devil, St. Jerome in his Study, and Melencolia I. Dürer was equally well known as a writer and mathematician. His godfather was Germany’s most prominent publisher, Anton Koberger, whose typefaces and business advice on contracts with two sales agents were invaluable. Dürer’s theoretical books played a leading role in the spread of Renaissance style among artists and patrons north of the Alps, particularly the Manual of Measurement (Unterweysung der Messung, Nuremberg, 1525) and the Four Books of Human Proportion (Von menschlicher Proportion, Nuremberg, 1528). They were quickly translated into various languages, while his graphic art was a mainstay in the training of young artists in both Europe and the New World for centuries to come. Dürer is nearly unique as an artist, since his fame has never declined, unlike Raphael, Rembrandt, or Michelangelo, all of whom owned prints or drawings by him, as did Pontormo, Nicholas Hilliard, William Blake, Goethe, and all of the Nazarenes. His prints inspired work by El Greco, Caravaggio, Victor Hugo, Friedrich Nietzsche, Friedrich Engels, Odilon Redon, Thomas Mann, Picasso, Otto Dix, and Ferdinand Botero among many others. His brilliant technique and written contributions to German scientific literature, as well as his early interest in the writings of Martin Luther and personal association with German and Netherlandish humanism, have made him increasgly famous over time. It has long been recognized that Dürer, a goldsmith’s son who had by his own account a minimum of formal education, could scarcely have been able to read more than a few words of Latin and would have needed a mentor for the major figures and issues of humanism. It had long been assumed that his wealthy, university-educated friend Willibald Pirckheimer was that person. However, Dieter Wüttke’s 1967 discovery of the Kassel manuscript of epigrams by Konrad Celtis dating from 1500, praising Dürer as not merely a new Apelles, but an “Apelles Teutonicus,” established Celtis as his first mentor, who remained an essential influence until his early death in 1508. This drew attention to the inescapable connection between Celtis’s plans for the Germania Illustrata and Dürer’s approximately thirty landscape watercolors, all of which are datable between 1494 and 1500, and all of which were done either in Nuremberg’s environs, or in territory that is now in Austria or northern Italy but which in Dürer’s day lay within the southern boundary of the Holy Roman Empire.
Dürer’s life is more fully documented than that of any artist of his age. Physical records include, in his own words, his family history, travel diary, and personal correspondence; his remarkable series of self portraits, two early biographies written by younger contemporaries who knew him well; his Nuremberg house (now the Dürerhaus Museum); his tomb; and even a lock of his hair, with a colophon indicating that it was treasured by a succession of German artists beginning with journeyman Hans Baldung. His generous concern for the education of future German artists has caused him to be regarded with affection as a national hero, despite the fact that in his own lifetime there was no such thing as “Germany” in the modern sense and that for the half-century following World War II there were two Germanies, each claiming custody of his political views. The professional literature on Albrecht Dürer and his art is vast and has developed over five centuries to serve many purposes, from museum curators and collectors to students of art, art history, the Reformation, natural science and German studies. Because he considered himself primarily a graphic artist, mathematician, and author, his oeuvre is unusually large; and because of the differing requirements of museums, print rooms, and libraries, his works are catalogued by medium. The reference tools that are indispensable for research include: Rupprich 1956–1969, containing the artist’s own written work, plus comments and correspondence from his own lifetime; Mende 1971, a complete bibliography of works by and about Dürer; the supplements by Brautigam and Mende 1974, Stechow 1974, and Hutchison 2000, adding works published after the Mende bibliography went to press. The oeuvre catalogues—Paintings, Prints, Drawings, and Watercolors—are listed separately by medium in this article. A new and indispensable research tool is Hess and Eser 2012, which is a catalogue of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum’s exhibition, in which many unfounded assumptions about Dürer’s life and work are exposed and new information brought to light.
Brautigam, Gunther, and Matthias Mende. “Mähen mit Dürer. Literatur und Ereignisse im Umkreis des Dürer-Jahres 1971.” Mitteilungen des Vereins für Geschichte der Stadt Nürnberg 61 (1974): 204–282.
A critical key to the exhibition catalogues and other scholarly material produced for Dürer 1971, particularly valuable for the report on colloquia and exhibitions in central and eastern Europe: Vienna, Stift Gottweig, Dresden, Budapest, Prague, Leningrad, and in Romania, as well as smaller conferences and exhibitions in the West (France, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, Britain) and in Tokyo (1972).
Hess, Daniel, and Thomas Eser, eds. The Early Dürer. Nuremberg, Germany: Germanisches Nationalmuseum, 2012.
Essential informaton on the early life and art of Dürer should always be checked against this catalogue, in which all known facts are disclosed and verified in context of the latest research. Particularly useful is the appendix: “Material for a Dürer Matrix from 1471 to 1505”, pp. 536–552. Full bibliography listing the more than 260 exhibitions, arranged alphabetically by city, held since 1871. The eighteen essays appear in this article by subject and under authors’ names.
Hutchison, Jane Campbell. Albrecht Dürer: A Guide to Research. New York: Garland, 2000.
Annotated bibliography focusing on publications since 1971. Introductory essay is “Ehrlich gehalten nah und fehren: Five centuries of Dürer Reception” (pp. 1–24); also includes history of the Dürer House (after Mende); chronology of the artist’s life, and location guide to the works.
Mende, Matthias. Dürer –Bibiographie. Wiesbaden, West Germany: Harrassowitz, 1971.
This monumental work (735 pp. and more than 10,000 cross-referenced entries) was published in May of 1971 in honor of the 500th anniversary of the artist’s birth, and of the great international loan exhibition held at Nuremberg’s Germanisches Nationalmuseum (21 May–1 August).
Rupprich, Hans. Dürers schriftlicher Nachlass. 3 vols. Berlin: Deutscher Verein für Kunstwissenschaft, 1956–1969.
Volume 1 contains the text of the artist’s own family history, written by himself in 1524; the single page preserved from his Gedenkbuch; the complete texts of his letters to Willibald Pirckheimer from Venice; and the diary of his journey to the Netherlands are of particular use and are printed both in the artist’s own words and transcribed into modern German.
Stechow, Wolfgang. “Recent Dürer Studies.” The Art Bulletin 56 (1974): 259–270.
Mende 1971 went to press in 1970, and could not accommodate the many publications of Dürer Year 1971 or later. Stechow, who had given the keynote address at the opening of the Nuremberg exhibition, published the critical review of the exhibition catalogues generated by both eastern and western European and American museums in 1971–1972, including the papers of the colloquia presented in east and west Germany; Mende’s bibliography; and the new standard catalogue of Dürer’s paintings (Anzelewsky 1980, see under Reference Works).
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