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Who was Albrecht Dürer?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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Albrecht Dürer was a German artist who worked during a period known as the Northern Renaissance. He is widely regarded as one of the finest artists in German history, and his work had a huge influence on European art, especially European engraving and printmaking. Copies of Dürer's work are widely published in art and history books all over the world, and many fine museums also retain several Dürers in their permanent collections. It is well worth traveling to see the art of Dürer, since he was incredibly talented in a number of artistic mediums.

Dürer was born in Nuremberg in 1471. His father was a goldsmith, and it was assumed that he would pick up the family trade. However, it became clear by age 15 that Dürer had immense potential as an artist, and his family apprenticed him to an artist to develop his skill. After his apprenticeship, Dürer took the first of several trips to Italy, where he undoubtedly met famous artists of the period and picked up skills and ideas which would appear in later work. When he returned to Nuremberg, he married and opened his own studio.

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Europe was in a tumultuous period when Dürer lived. Religion was undergoing major challenges and changes as a result of the Reformation, and much of Dürer's work included religious themes, suggesting that religion was frequently on his mind. European art was also undergoing significant changes, some of which were brought about by Dürer. He brought realism to the North, for example; many of his paintings and watercolors are so detailed and perfect that they almost look like photographs, a marked difference from prevailing artistic trends in the North.

Dürer also revolutionized printmaking, by pushing the limits of this art form to create incredibly detailed and beautiful engravings and block prints. His attention to detail and precision made his prints extremely popular, suggesting to other artists that they might be able to turn a profit through printmaking as well. At the time, the traditional patron system for art was also shifting, as more members of the bourgeoisie began purchasing art, in contrast to only royalty and members of the nobility. While single paintings could fetch immense sums from members of the nobility, prints were more affordable, and they could be used to secure more patrons as a result.

In addition to being a talented painter and printmaker, Dürer was also a mathematician. During his lifetime, he published an assortment of treatises on mathematic principles, especially proportions and perspective. He also studied classical art, integrating some of the themes of ancient art into his own work while also promoting a new genre: the landscape painting. In 1528, Dürer died, leaving behind an impressive legacy which resonates in European art and culture even today.

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