Albrecht Dürer: Northern Renaissance Hero

Born to Albrecht Dürer the Elder in the year 1471 in the German city of Nuremberg, Albrecht Dürer is considered by many to be one of the paramount figures of the Northern Renaissance. Along with his reputation of being a great painter, Dürer was also an art theorist, a printmaker and a draughtsman.

Dürer’s father and his namesake was an affluent Hungarian goldsmith who emigrated into Germany in the year 1455. He was the third child and the second son among fourteen to eighteen children. His godfather was the celebrated German goldsmith turned printer & publisher Anton Koberger, who had his own printing house and was the publisher for the Nuremberg Chronicle.

Dürer began his journey towards success as an apprentice to his father in 1485, but one his earliest known works, a self portrait, was made in 1484.

Going into the sixteenth century, science, humanism and art were solidifying their footing in Europe. There was a demand for books and art. Dürer’s altarpieces, classical motifs, engravings, paintings and books reached a global audience, defying all odds at a time when effective means of communication were at a rudimentary stage. His works impressed upon countries as far away as India. He was in correspondence with his Italian contemporaries like Raphael, Giovanni Bellini and none other than Leonardo da Vinci. He is also counted among the first major artists to utilize the power of the printing press.

Unconventional in those times, Dürer often painted himself in the act of painting. His self portraits show us a remarkable attention to detail. One of the most definitive of its kind is the one he painted in 1500 AD.


As was the norm in that era, self portraits or paintings in general showed the sitters facing slightly away or gazing at far off distances making the characters look alive. It is often believed that the reason Dürer often painted his self portraits so staggeringly symmetrical was because he wanted them to resemble the icons of Christ.  He even changed the colour of his hair from blonde to brown to resemble Christ.

The inscription in the portrait reads: “In 1500, Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg, painted himself in apt and eternal colours when he was twenty eight years old.”

One of his earliest known works was another self portrait he made at the tender age of thirteen. The teenage Dürer shows astounding virtuosity by using silverpoint to make this portrait, basically meaning when a line is drawn, it cannot be erased.


The inscription in the portrait reads: “This I drew after myself from a mirror in the year 1484 when I was still a boy.”

We know much about Dürer’s life than any other artists of that time because he maintained journals and wrote letters to his friends from his travels. It is cited in one of such letters that Dürer found more appreciation abroad than at home. Nevertheless, he is practically the patron saint of art in Germany.

Dürer’s massive bronze statue in Nuremberg, unveiled in the year 1840 to mark his 300th death anniversary, is the world’s first public statue of a painter. The statue was designed by German sculptor Christian Daniel Rauch and sits on a rectangular pedestal in the Dürerplatz near the St. Sebaldus Church in Nuremberg.


Some of Albrecht Dürer’s works in pictures



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