1471 – 1528
Albrecht Dürer the Younger was born in Nuremberg on May 21, 1471, to Albrecht Dürer the Elder and Barbara Holper, and was the third of eighteen children. Showing his talent early on, he apprenticed in his father’s workshop alongside his elder brother, Enders. During this time, he learned the technique of metal engraving, which later proved invaluable in his renowned works in engraving and etching. His father also instilled in him a reverence for the great Flemish masters. In 1484, at just 13 years old, he executed a self-portrait, a silver-point drawing done in front of a mirror.
At 15, his father, recognizing his son’s talent, sent him to train under the painter Michael Wolgemut, one of Nuremberg’s most prominent artists known for his woodcut illustrations in printed books. This likely fueled Dürer’s appreciation for printmaking as a significant art form, which he cultivated to become perhaps the finest engraver of ancient prints, alongside Goya and Rembrandt.
In 1490, he embarked on several trips to deepen his knowledge, visiting Cologne, Basel, and Strasbourg. His early artistic works included two panel paintings: portraits of his father and mother. During this period, he created numerous woodcuts for book illustrations.
Upon his return to Nuremberg, Dürer produced watercolors depicting the landscapes surrounding his city. Well-integrated into Nuremberg’s social life, he married Agnes Frey, the daughter of a goldsmith, at the age of twenty-three in 1494. His enthusiastic yet sometimes melancholic character made him rather restless and eager to acquire new knowledge.
In 1495, he traveled to Italy to study the works of the great Italian Renaissance artists such as Giotto, Raphael, Leonardo, and others. During this journey, he produced a beautiful series of watercolors dedicated to alpine castles.
In 1496, Dürer met Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, known as “the Wise,” who commissioned numerous works from him, becoming his influential patron and contributing to his rapid career advancement. Over the following years, Dürer dedicated himself almost exclusively to printmaking, producing esteemed works such as “Men’s Bath,” drawings for the Apocalypse of St. John, the Passion of Christ, and “Holy Family with Three Hares.” In 1500, he created the famous “Self-Portrait with Fur Collar.”
In 1502, upon his father’s death, Dürer took over the family goldsmith business with his brother Hans. He always straddled between creating grand artistic works and commercially lucrative projects.
In 1505, he revisited Italy and honed his style, infusing his figures with careful psychological introspection and imbuing his portraits and environments with painterly depth. His works established a profound and harmonious relationship between figures and landscapes. It’s highly probable that he encountered Leonardo da Vinci during this trip, sharing a vision of humanity as a harmonious part of creation.
By 1509, Dürer was already regarded as a great painter, engraver, and highly cultured individual. He created numerous portraits of the powerful, demonstrating his autonomy and independence in his artistic choices.
Throughout his career, Dürer explored various art forms, including high-quality jewelry making, miniature painting, book illustration, furniture design, and sculpture and monument design. He endeavored to balance himself amidst the socially turbulent climate of the Lutheran Reformation and its inspiring principles.
In 1512, he met Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, and conceived a monumental woodcut for him, consisting of 193 separately printed blocks assembled into a grand Triumphal Arch depicting stories from Maximilian’s life and ancestry. This extraordinary composition earned him an annual benefit of one hundred florins. In 1515, he created a woodcut of an Indian rhinoceros, known as “Dürer’s Rhinoceros.” In 1518, he painted a portrait of the emperor. However, in 1519, following the emperor’s death, the Nuremberg senate suspended his annuity.
In 1520, Dürer visited the Netherlands, solidifying his reputation both in Germany and throughout Europe. Many European artists emulated his ability to blend Italian Renaissance influence with local painting styles.
In his later years, disheartened by violent events such as the peasant revolt and significant social tensions, Dürer abandoned painting and focused on creating and illustrating educational treaties. He published a treatise on geometry in 1525, one on fortifications and walls resistant to firearms in 1527, and in 1528, a study of symmetry and proportions of the human body.
His planned fourth treatise on art remained unfinished, possibly his most ambitious, dedicated to the art.
After his trip to the Netherlands, Dürer contracted a severe form of malaria, which was poorly treated. His health remained critical, and he never fully recovered. He passed away on April 6, 1528, in Nuremberg.