Printmaker, painter and pioneer of the Northern Renaissance, Albrecht Dürer stands as a colossal figure in the history of art. He was a revolutionary talent who transformed 15th-century Northern European art with ideas from the Italian Renaissance. By spreading the ideals of the Renaissance across Germany, Dürer created a new kind of Renaissance specific to the North. He fused Italian innovations in optics and form with the new Northern European humanistic ideologies of Lutheranism and Protestantism. His work, especially in printmaking, introduced a radical secular emphasis to art and had a profound influence not only on the Renaissance but on the entire course of art history.
Albrecht Dürer was born in the German city of Nuremberg in May 1471. He was one of 18 siblings born to Albrecht and Barbara Dürer (only three of whom survived to adulthood). His father — after whom he was named — was a successful goldsmith of Hungarian heritage. At 15 he began his apprenticeship under Nuremberg painter and illustrator Michael Wolgemut. By the early 1490s he was working as a journeyman printmaker in Basle and Strasbourg. In 1494 he made his first trip to Venice. On returning to Nuremburg, he embarked on an extraordinary period of creativity inspired by what he had learnt in Italy. He produced a string of Renaissance masterpieces including his iconic Self-Portrait (1500), the woodcut sequence The Apocalypse (1498) and the extraordinary watercolour paintings, Young Hare (1502) and Great Piece of Turf (1503).
When Dürer returned to Italy in 1505, he did so as Germany’s most celebrated artist. Over the next decade, in both Italy and Germany, he would produce some of the greatest artworks of the Renaissance. This included his Adoration of the Trinity (1511) and Feast of the Rosary (1506). In the early 1510s he produced his print masterpieces, Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513), Saint Jerome in his Study (1514) and Melencolia I (1514).
Dürer became an official court artist to the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I in 1512. For him, Dürer’s workshop produced the monumental woodcuts Triumphal Chariot (c.1518) and Triumphal Arch (1515). In the last years of his life, Dürer openly converted to Lutheranism. He died in Nuremberg in 1528.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, from: The Apocalypse (B. 64; M., Holl. 167; S.M.S. 115)