Oil painting -> List of Painters -> Albrecht Durer

   Albrecht Durer

Frans Hals Painting

Early life in Nuremberg

Durer was born in Nuremberg. His family came from Hungary, germanizing the family name of Thürer when they settled in Nuremberg soon after the middle of the 15th century.

His father, also called Albrecht, was a goldsmith and served as assistant to Hieronymus Helfer, and in 1468 married his daughter Barbara. They had eighteen children, of whom Albrecht was the second. Albrecht's brother, Hans Dürer, also became a renowned artist.


Dürer learned not only painting but also wood carving and elementary copper engraving under Wolgemut. At the end of his apprenticeship in 1490 he travelled (the so-called Wanderjahre). In 1492 he arrived in Colmar, intending to study under Martin Schöngauer, a well regarded painter-engraver of his time. He found that Schongauer had died the previous year, but he was received kindly by the family of the deceased master there and in Basel. Under them he evidently had some practice both in metal-engraving and in furnishing designs for the woodcutter. He left Basel some time in 1494 and travelled briefly in the Low Countries before he returned to Nuremberg. From this period, little of the work that can be attributed to him with certainty survives, though several of the illustrations of the Nuremberg Chronicle are sometimes attributed to him

First visit to Italy

On July 9, 1494 Dürer was married, according to an arrangement made during his absence, to Agnes Frey, the daughter of a local merchant. His relationship with his wife is unclear and her reputation has suffered from a posthumous assault by Dürer's friends. He did not remain in Nuremberg long; in the autumn of 1494 he travelled to Italy, leaving his wife at Nuremberg. He went to Venice, evidence of his travels being derived from drawings and engravings that are closely linked to existing northern Italian works by Mantegna, Antonio Pollaiuolo, Lorenzo di Credi and others. Some time in 1495 Dürer must have returned to Nuremberg, where he seems to have lived and worked for possibly the next ten years, producing most of his notable prints.

Return to Nuremberg

During the first few years from 1495 onwards he worked in the established Germanic and northern forms but was open to the influences of the Renaissance. His best works in this period were for wood-block printing, typical scenes of popular devotion developed into his famous series of sixteen great designs for the Apocalypse, first carved in 1498. Counterpointed with the first seven of scenes of the Great Passion in the same year, and a little later a series of eleven on the Holy Family and of saints. Around 1504-1505 he carved the first seventeen of a set illustrating the life of the Virgin. Neither these nor the Great Passion were published till several years later.

Dürer trained himself in the more finely detailed and expensive copper-engraving. He attempted no subjects of the scale of his woodcuts, but produced a number of Madonnas, single figures from scripture or of the saints, some nude mythologies, and groups, sometimes satirical, of ordinary people. The Venetian artist Jacopo de Barbari, whom Dürer had met in Venice, came to Nuremberg for a while in 1500. He influenced Dürer with the new developments in perspective, anatomy and proportion, from which Dürer began his own studies. A series of extant drawings show Dürer's experiments in human proportion, up to the famous engraving of Adam and Eve (1504) which showed his firm and detailed grasp of landscape had extended into the quality of flesh surfaces by the subtlest use of the graving-tool known to him. Two or three other technical masterpieces were produced up to 1505, when he made a second visit to Italy.

Second visit to Italy

In Italy he turned his hand to painting, at first producing a series of works by tempera-painting on linen, including portraits and altarpieces, notably the Paumgartner altarpiece and the Adoration of the Magi. In early 1506 he returned to Venice, and stayed there until the spring of 1507. The occasion of this journey has been erroneously stated by Vasari. Dürer's engravings had by this time attained great popularity and had begun to be copied. In Venice he was given a valuable commission from the emigrant German community for the church of St. Bartholomew. The picture painted by Dürer was closer to the Italian style - the Adoration of the Virgin, also known as the Feast of Rose Garlands; it was subsequently acquired by the Emperor Rudolf II and taken to Prague. Other paintings Dürer produced in Venice include The Virgin and Child with the Goldfinch, a Christ disputing with the Doctors (apparently produced in a mere five days) and a number of smaller works.