Albrecht Dürer: The Genius with a Great Soul
Albrecht Dürer was not only the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance, but also a unique personality, his genius coexisting with a pure, noble character. Indeed, looking at his self portraits, we discover the handsome man he was, with his face reflecting the purity of his soul and his intelligence.
Self-Portrait, 1498 - Detail
Museo del Prado, Madrid
His contemporaries were impressed by his physical appearance, and his mental and moral qualities, which were no less remarkable. Camerarius writes that “such were the sweetness and charm of his language that listeners were always sorry when he had finished speaking.” Philipp Melanchthon, writing after his friend death, said that “his art, great as it was, was his least merit”, as in his eyes, Albrecht the Christian was worth even more than the artist.
Among all the artists investigating the classical in search of new principles of art, Albrecht Dürer stands supreme. He studied the art principles, made rigorous theoretical observations, meticulously recorded the results of his investigations, and then he gave the resulting written instructions to his contemporaries.
Dürer belonged to Nuremberg. In the 16th Century, the city was the chief centre of the German artistic life. The revival of the classical spirit of Antiquity inspired the new, original conceptions in art. The movement influenced the art more than the literature, with engravings, woodcuts, and paintings reflecting the new thinking.
The study of Dürer’s works requires more imaginative effort than the works of the Italian Renaissance artists. In a typical German fashion, his art sometimes disregards the outward beauty of form, with the main intent of revealing the inner life. The art is subordinated to the revelation of the real, the inward, which latter was the subject of investigation for German philosophers like Kant and Schopenhauer. And, like in the case of early German painters, the expression of the inner, emotional life, remained the ideal of Dürer.
A true humanist of the time, he has an impressive contribution to literature, and according to his friend Camerarius, Dürer was a master of natural sciences and mathematics. He wrote treatises on measurement, fortifications, proportion, and on artistic theory. His most important work is "Human Proportions", containing the results of a life-long, patient study.
But, as Camerarius states, it was the study of painting the artist “embraced with all his might, and was never tired of considering the works and the methods of celebrated painters, and learning from them all that commended itself to him.”
We cannot really understand the artist’s personality unless we immerse ourselves in the study of his art, life and times. And this is the purpose of this site, to offer an in-depth look at Dürer’s art and his life. His Biography is provided both in a short version, and in detail. And we will look at his works, engravings, paintings, and drawings, trying to discover the artist’s deepest thoughts, as it is said that, if you want to learn anything of his mind, search for it in his pictures.
That would be the only way to discover Dürer. Apparently, none of his literary works would reveal any insight into his real heart, everything is written with cold, laconic precision. Was it really cold? Was it laconic? What lies behind that? Maybe the modesty, and the true honest nature of Albrecht Dürer.