Albrecht Durer's life

Freshman (College 1st year) ・Art ・MLA

Born in Nuremberg Germany, Albrecht Durer was a popular artist and the second born of 18 children. Albrecht Durer was so passionate about painting but before dedicating his life into painting, he worked with his father from time to time. His father was a wealthy goldsmith from Hungary. His godfather who was one of the best publishers in Germany at the time had a best-selling chronical of 1494. This Chronical had illustrations by Michael Wolgemut, a popular painter in that era. Michael trained Durer and taught him the ways of art. Durer learned and acquired knowledge for 3 years. He was a traveler in his lifetime, and he traveled for a couple of years before settling down. He went to Colmar with the intention of visiting Martin Schongauer in 1492 with the purpose of learning from his art. However, he arrived shortly after the death of the artist. Martin's family welcomed him warmly and showed him to his workshop. In this place, Durer got some of his extensive knowledge on the metal engraving. Martin was a highly regarded artist whose works inspired Durer.

Later, Durer returned to his hometown in Germany where married Agnes Frey. Her father was a local metalwork designer (Gutiérrez-Sanfeliu, Carles). The marriage was arranged thus loveless and did not bear any children. In 1494, the artist left his wife in Germany and headed for northern Italy during the autumn and winter. In Italy, he witnessed the works of an array of artists including Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini who profoundly influenced the development of his art career.

In 1495, he returned home and opened his workshop. Nuremberg was a fruitful point of trade located within the Roman Empire. He traded high-quality print work and even some of his portraits. In 1500, Durer went back to Italy where he painted The Adoration of Holy Rosary for some German traders in Venice (Gutiérrez-Sanfeliu, Carles). Later on, he worked on different paintings. In 1509, this artist had acquired a high social standing in the community and was hugely successful. He even bought a magnificent house in the Zisselgasse and joined the grand council in his hometown.

Durer continually revitalized printmaking strategies which attracted the humanists in his hometown. One of the was his closest companion who advised him on some of the subjects that drew the attention of the elite in the society and the ideals of the Italian Renaissance. Durer became the head designer of the Maximilian Triumph Arch as a result of his extensive knowledge in printmaking.

In 1520 Durer traveled to Netherlands to witness the coronation of Emperor Charles. He recorded a detailed account of his endeavor in his diary. He later concentrated on publishing his ideas about art. He was an excellent draughtsman, and many of his works have survived. Some of his most beautiful works are on display at the British Museum. It includes the different paintings from every stage in his career. John Rowlands cataloged all his pictures in 1993. The art community continuously praises Durer's works. Durer traveled in many regions where the residents warmly welcomed him. He produced an array of drawings in silverpoint, charcoal, and chalk. He later returned home due to an illness. This illness continued throughout his life.

While in his hometown, Durer concentrated on painting a series of spiritual pictures. One of them is the portrait of the four Apostles. He painted a picture with four men which art historians have deduced to be the four apostles. The names of the figures in the portrayed are evident in the inscription below the picture. One can also identify them in the iconographic grounds.

One can identify the man holding the Bible as John, a disciple of Jesus known to have written a Gospel. In the book of John, he starts by expressing the existence of the word at the beginning and the fact that the word was God thus explaining his figure in the portrait holding a bible. The picture in the background has a key and could be described as Peter one of the Apostles. In the gospel of Mathew, Jesus states his willingness and intent to give Peter the keys to the kingdom of God.

In the picture, the figures seem to be genuinely engrossed in the Gospel. John is portraying his high intellectual ability and Peter, although seemingly uneducated, manifesting his ardent faith. John's robe appears elegant with neatly forged folds that obediently converge at his right arm he firmly holds on to the scriptures.

As indicated in the inscription, the two other figures seem to be Mark and Paul. The writing, however, does not specify which character is Mark or Paul (Raboff, Ernest). Many art historians have come up with various deductions in a bid to explain the identity of each man. Some have identified the figure at the foreground as Mark because he seems to be holding a long stuff in his right hand. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus urges his disciples to carry nothing save for staff as they go on their mission to spread the good news to the world.

Looking keenly at the portrait, however, the object which the man holds looks more like a sword than a staff. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul mentions that they should take the helmet of salvation and a sword of the spirit as they embark on fighting the evil the world. This text from the bible could explain the identity of the man as the Apostle Paul.

The same letter mentions a shield. When one looks even more intensely, there seems to be a shield carefully woven under the man’s robe. This idea of armor is mentioned in Ephesians when Paul urges them to use it when tackling evil (McWhinnie, Harold J., and Heinrich Wolfflin). Many guidebooks have used this idea to explain why the man in the image could be Paul as opposed to Mark. Following this explanation, the second man is Mark. His face is directed outwards away from the testament. One could say that he is focusing on the mission to spread the word of God as indicated in the Gospel of Mark in the new testament. Mark and Paul devoted their lives to the gospel. Paul's robe forms graceful folds that flow out from the proof held in his hands. However, there has been no definite conclusion as to the real identity of the two men in the portrait. It suffices that the two men are Paul and Mark, but we do not know each of them individually.

Although the portrait depicts religious meanings, there have been a lot of questions as to the actual meaning of the subject matter. The writings below the picture are clauses in the bible warning about false prophets and teachers (McWhinnie, Harold J., and Heinrich Wolfflin). Some historians argue that, despite the uncertainty of the actual meaning of the inscription, the picture depicts Durer’s personal belief in Christianity. Christensen concludes that his message was primarily about the word of God based on the visual components; Paul is holding a closed Bible, Mark a scroll and John reading a book.

Melancholia I

Durer painted a self-portrait as a symbolic image. After a series of miseries including the death of both his parents and godfather, Durer drew a self-portrait that most of his feelings at the time. Art historians presume that he painted the image to illustrate his sickness to his doctor. The picture displays the artist pointing at the area around his spleen, liver, and gallbladder. He colored these parts yellow for easier identification (Morrison, Tessa). At the top of the painting, he inscribes a note to his physician explaining to him that the parts colored yellow, where the finger points, are the parts that hurt.

There have been some interpretations for this painting. One of the explanations is that, after feasting on the Italian dishes, Durer suffered from indigestion. However, this statement seems unlikely if one carefully examines the picture. Instead, the portrait manifests the artist's melancholy. Records indicate that Durer often complained of a swollen shown by the pointing finger in his image. Spleen represents melancholy as explained by the peasant's calendar which describes the planet Saturn (whose symbol is spleen) as a sick planet which disease of the liver, gallbladder, and kidneys. To them, Saturn represents melancholy. Moreover, there are ancient Arabic writings that prove the connection between Saturn and melancholy. These concepts can help in understanding Durer's painting.

In the portrait, the image clenches its fist soliciting different explanations from art historians. Some believe that it was a sign of helplessness which also indicates melancholy. Dante Alighieri, however, explains that the clenched fist meant that the melancholic person had reached a point of insanity by due to the belief of holding onto something that does not exist. Erwin Panofsky also states that the person's melancholy is so intense that he has lost a grip on reality.

Another characteristic of the melancholic nature is a dark face portrayed in the picture. During the Renaissance period, one of the standard beliefs about Saturn was, due to high levels of black bile, it was of black countenance. This concept is popularly found in the medical history, and Durer maximized on this technique to depict an emotion from physical manifestations.

Attached to the melancholia were a purse and some keys. He wrote that the keys symbolized power and the purse wealth. Giulia Bartrum explained that the key expressed the god of Saturn who was the controller of melancholy (Morrison, Tessa).

The melancholia assumes a slouched position which is also significant. The figure seems to be in deep but not fully formulated thoughts thus does not sit in an upright posture. The significance of the stance is visible in Durer's painting of his wife where she appears to be slouching with her fists clenched. Durer created the Melancholia to illustrate the parallelism between his illness and marriage perfectly.

By the Melancholia’s feet sits a weak and emaciated dog which seems to be near death. This image could represent his mother who was quite sickly before her eventual demise. He did not have a good relationship with hence the representations. This symbolism could have been to show his lack of care for her.


Durer was an exceptional artist who inspired many of the modern artists. I chose his art because it represented who he was. From his art, one can easily describe almost every aspect of his personality. It also depicts his deep imagination and attention to detail. His works also principally demonstrated his spiritual nature. Furthermore, his paintings went a long way to represent his feelings in an inspiring way. I believe that art students learn a great deal from this legend.

Work Cited

DURER, ALBRECHT. "Melancholia I." Academic Medicine, vol 78, no. 4, 2003, p. 382. Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health), doi:10.1097/00001888-200304000-00012.

Durer, Albrecht. Work Of Durer, Reproduced In Over Four Hundred Illustrations. [Place Of Publication Not Identified], Hardpress P Raboff, Ernest. Albrecht Durer. Harper And Row, 1988,.Ublishing, 2012,

Gutiérrez-Sanfeliu, Carles. "Reframing Albrecht Dürer: The Appropriation Of Art, 1528-1700 By Andrea Bubenik." Parergon, vol 30, no. 2, 2013, pp. 168-170. Johns Hopkins University Press, doi:10.1353/pgn.2013.0123.

McWhinnie, Harold J., and Heinrich Wolfflin. "Drawing Of Albrecht Durer." Art Education, vol 24, no. 6, 1971, p. 27. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/3191645.

Morrison, Tessa. "Albrecht Dürer And The Ideal City." Parergon, vol 31, no. 1, 2014, pp. 137-160. Johns Hopkins University Press, doi:10.1353/pgn.2014.0050.

Raboff, Ernest. Albrecht Durer. Harper And Row, 1988.

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