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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Albrecht Durer

It was not until 1500, amidst the high Renaissance in Italy, that artists began to have  an international reputation. Michelangelo, because of his Sistine Chapel ceiling and the pilgrimages of travelers to Rome, Leonardo because of his own travels, and perhaps most interestingly, and surprisingly, to that list we have to add the German painter and engraver, Albrecht Durer. Although Durer is known to have done a little traveling too, the more than adequate painter became "famous", so to speak, not because of his brushwork, but due to the fact that he was able to actually "publish" his own work, in the form of woodcuts or engravings (intaglio). Whereas other painters could produce only one work, Durer reproduced hundreds, which did the traveling  for him to all parts of Europe, taking his reputation with them.

Self-Portrait, 1500,
Albrecht Durer

Born in 1471 in northern Germany, Durer's early training involved the carving of wooden panels to be used in the printing process which flourished especially in northern Europe at this time. His work always reflected deep piety, and in fact, if his painted self-portrait is any indication, he seems to have seen himself as somewhat Christ-like. Painted around 1500, it is an intense, highly detailed, extremely realistic frontal depiction usually reserved for portraits of Christ at the time. Although he'd dabbled in etched prints somewhat, after a trip to Venice and exposure to Venetian painting between 1505 and 1507, he returned to Germany where he did some of his most impressive engravings.

Knight, Death, and the Devil,
1513-14, Albrecht Durer

Working with only the crudest of tools, and in reverse on a copper plate, Durer created some of the most tightly drawn etched prints ever done before or since.  His work, like the 1513 print, The Knight, Death and the Devil is a tour-de-force of engraving skill as impressive, in it's own way, as anything Michelangelo did in fresco or marble, or Leonardo did in oils. And, most of all, being only about 7 1/2 by 9 1/2 inches in size, and printed on paper, (and in some quantity) it was portable, in a way neither of the other masters could begin to match. One could even go so far as to say that Durer was our first mass media artist.

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