ALBRECHT DURER (21 May 1471 – 6 April 1528)


Albrecht Dürer: Self-Portrait - Detail

Self Portrait (1498)

“As I grew older, I realized that it was much better to insist on the genuine forms of nature, for simplicity is the greatest adornment of art.”


Albrecht Dürer was one of the greatest artists of the Northern Renaissance.  The son of an Hungarian goldsmith, Durer was born in Nuremberg, Germany.  He started his studies in goldsmithing, but his talent for painting superseded this, with etching becoming his artistic medium of choice. Successful during his lifetime, he spent a few years studying in Italy, in touch with most of the major artists of the day including Raphael, Bellini and Leonardo da Vinci.  He also benefitted from the patronage of emperor Maximilian I.

Praying Hands (c.1508)  

Praying Hands is possibly Durer’s most famous pen-and-ink drawing.  This sketch of the hands of an apostle was for the Heller altarpiece in Frankfurt, destroyed by fire in 1729. The hands are thought to be those of the artist.

On his return to Nuremberg in 1495, Dürer opened his own workshop, integrating Italian influences into his works, which were religious and secular, portraits and self-portraits, engravings and pen and ink. Among his most famous works are The Apocalypse series, St Michael Fighting the Dragon, Melancholia, Rhinoceros and Hare.


Rhinoceros (1515)

(The artist never actually saw the animal!)





Hare (1502)

Durer’s talents went beyond art, to the authorship of books on mathematics and on the human form.  He was known too, as a theorist of art and had a huge interest in religion, particularly Lutheranism.

On a personal level, his autobiographical notes point to a miserable arranged marriage to Agnes Frey.  The couple remained childless and both he and his friends were quite brutal about the bride’s temperament!

Durer’s health suffered in the 1520s, having caught an illness on his travels. He died in Nuremberg at the age of 56, leaving his fortune to his widow. His home is now a museum.


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