Albrecht Dürer (Biographical details)

Albrecht Dürer (printmaker; painter/draughtsman; designer; German; Male; 1471 - 1528)

Also known as

Dürer, Albrecht; Duerer, Albrecht


Dürer was born in Nuremberg, the son of a successful Hungarian goldsmith. His godfather was Anton Koberger, the leading German publisher of his day, whose best-selling Nuremberg Chronicle of 1494 contained illustrations designed by the painter Michel Wolgemut, with whom Dürer served three years of apprenticeship from 1486-9. Dürer's travels as a journeyman from 1490-1494 included a visit in 1492 to Colmar to the workshop of the most highly regarded painter and engraver of the period, Martin Schongauer, who had died the previous year. After his return to Nuremberg in 1494, he married Agnes Frey, the daughter of a local metalwork designer. During the second half of the 1490s he visited northern Italy, where the works of artists such as Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini had a powerful effect on his artistic development.

In 1495, Dürer opened his own workshop in Nuremberg, a wealthy centre of trade which was situated at a focal point within the Holy Roman Empire. He took the radical step of producing high quality prints for an open market, and the first edition of his famous Apocalypse series of woodcuts was published in 1498. Dürer's paintings also display a deep interest in new subjects and Renaissance ideas, particularly his self-portraits of the late 1490s. From 1505 to 1507 he visited Italy again and painted the Feast of the Rose Garlands for the German merchants in Venice (now much restored in the National Gallery, Prague). From 1507 to 1512 he worked on numerous paintings and the Engraved Passion. The woodcut series of the Life of the Virgin, the Great Passion and the Little Passion were published in 1511. Signs of his increased social standing and prosperity were evident by 1509, when he became a member of the Great Council of Nuremberg, and purchased a house in the Zisselgasse (today the Dürer-Haus Museum).

Dürer's re-vitalisation of printmaking techniques caught the attention of the circle of humanist scholars in Nuremberg, centred around his close friend Willibald Pirckheimer, who informed him on the literature and ideals of the Italian Renaissance and advised on subjects that would appeal to the educated élite. His achievements as a printmaker played a key role in the choice of the woodcut medium by the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, for his colossal commemorative projects commissioned in Augsburg. Dürer was the chief designer of Maximilian's Triumphal Arch of 1515 - 1517 (on display on the ground floor of the south-west side of the British Museum). His imperial annuity was ratified after Maximilian's death by the Emperor Charles V in Cologne in 1520. From 1520 - 1521 he travelled in the Netherlands. A detailed account of his activities there has survived in a transcription of his diary. In later years, he worked on the publication of his ideas on art theory, Treatise on Measurement (1525); Treatise on Fortification (1527), and Four books on Human Proportion (1528).

The foundation of the collection of Dürer's drawings in the British Museum, comes from Hans Sloane (1753) who bought in Holland in 1724 five volumes bound in black leather each stamped with the date 1637, that were originally compiled by the Dutch collector, Pieter Spiering Silfvercrona. (d.1652). One (Sl.5218) is in P&D; the other four are still in the British Library (Dept. Manuscripts) under Sl.5228 to 5231.


For catalogue raisonné of drawings W. Strauss, 'The Complete Drawings of Albrecht Dürer', New York, 1974, 6 vols; for drawings in the British Museum: J.K. Rowlands, 'Drawings by German Artists in the BM', 1993
For prints: J. Meder, 'Dürer-Katalog': Ein Handbuch über ADs Stiche, Radierungen, Holzschnitte, deren Zustände, Ausgaben und Wasserzeichen' Vienna, 1932; Hollstein; R. Schoch, M.Mende and A. Scherbaum, 'AD. Das druckgraphische Werk', Munich, London, New York, 3 vols 2001-2004; S. Dick, 'Dürer bookplates in the British Museum', The Book of the Bookplate, V, 1905, pp.299-316
For paintings: F. Anzelewsky, 'Albrecht Dürer: das malerische Werk' Berlin 1971; Biographies and legacy: E. Panofsky, 'The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer', Princeton, 4th edition 1955, 2 vols; F. Anzelewsky, 'Albrecht Dürer: das malerische Werk', Berlin 1971; Jane Campbell Hutchison, 'Albrecht Dürer: A Biography', Princeton, 1990; D.Eichberger and C. Zika, (ed) Dürer and his culture, Cambridge, 1998; G. Bartrum, 'Dürer and his Legacy: the Graphic work of a Renaissance artist', London, British Museum, 2002-3; G.U. Grossmann and F. Sonnenberger (ed), Dürer Forschnungen Band 1, 'Das Dürer-Haus: neue Ergebnisse der Forschung' Nuremberg, 2007; 'The Essential Dürer' edited by Larry Silver and Jeffrey Chipps Smith, Philadelphia, 2010.
For a focussed study of his early career, see D. Hess and T. Eser, 'Der frühe Dürer' exhibition catalogue, Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, 2012
For copies after Dürer: C. Vogt, 'Das druckgraphische Bild nach Vorlagen Albrecht Dürers (1471-1528): zum Phänomen der graphischen Kopie (Reproduktion) zu Lebzeiten Dürers nordlich der Alpen', Berlin, 2008.
For a translation of Dürer related documents: Jeffrey Ashcroft (ed) ' Albrecht Dürer documentary biography. Dürer's personal and aesthetic writings, words on pictures, family, legal and business documents; the artist in the writings of contemporaries' Translation and commentary, London / New Haven, 2017, 2 vols.