Albrecht Durer

Albrecht Durer, or Dürer (1471-1528) was one of the most famous artists of his time, and is widely considered the greatest German Renaissance artist. A goldsmith's son, he was first apprenticed to his father; the meticulousness that work required was put to artistic use early, as evidenced by his self-portrait at age 13 (right).

Albrecht Durer, Self Portrait at Age 13

At age 16 he was apprenticed for three years to Michael Wolgemut, a prominent master printmaker and painter, who taught him the arts of gouache, oil, watercolor and woodcuts.

Having finished his training, he went on to establish himself as a master craftsman in his own right, already famous when still in his twenties. 

Albrecht Durer, Young Hare

He made three important trips that led him to discover the great artists of his day and age. The first one was in Germany (around 1492), the second to Italy (around 1494) and a final one also to Italy (around 1505-1507).

He was made a noble by Maximilian I Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Indeed, Durer was an important figure at the time, not only as an artist, but also politically - for example, he was the one responsible for bringing the jewels for Charles V's crowning!

He made several more trips throughout his lifetime to countries, including Holland, to improve his skills. He died in 1528, at the age of 57.

Albrecht Durer's Drawings

Albrecht Durer's famous engraving,  "Melancolia".

In his early career, Albrecht Durer produced especially woodcuts.  Having trained with Wolgemut, the artist was more than familiar with this technique, but it was almost certain he didn't cut them himself.  Rather, he did his drawings either directly on the block of wood or on a piece of paper glued to it; this meant that his actual drawing was lost in the printing process.

Durer then taught himself how to use a graver, or burin.

WThe burin is made of hardened steel and is used to cut the drawing into a metal surface, usually a copper plate.

While much more difficult, this technique cuts far finer lines than in woodcut work, with a clean, clear delicacy that is immediately recognizable.  Albrecht Durer was certainly exposed to this work during his goldsmithing apprenticeship, and it was how he realized some of his most famous drawings, such as "Melancolia", above.

Albrecht Durer, Adam and Eve

Dürer was especially influenced by the Italians in his art, and a turning point came when the Venetian artist Barberi visited Nuremburg; it was the occasion for the German master artist to learn about the developing studies of proportion, anatomy and perspective that were overturning how the Italians did art. 

Barberi was unwilling to pass on all his secrets, however, and this set Durer afire to conduct his own studies that would preoccupy him to the end of his life.  Indeed, some of his more famous works, such as Adam and Eve (left), result from his efforts to master an understanding of human proportion. This work and others show his great skill in developing middle tones to truly model forms, like a sculptor with clay.

Durer also drew many remarkable portraits, of both the celebrated  (as that of Erasmus or Maximilian I) and interesting and famous studies of animals (such as his Young Hare - see above - or his Rhinoceros - see below), employing techniques as varied as etching (cutting into the metal plate with acid) pen and ink, gouache or watercolor.

Albrecht Durer, detail, Salvator Mundi

Animals were not a common subject in Western art of the time, yet Durer represented many, claiming that "Nature holds the beautiful, for the artist who has the insight to extract it".

However, drawing was very important in his body of work as a preparatory work.  For example, his iconic Praying Hands, drawn in pen and ink, was in fact a preparatory drawing of an apostle's hands for a painting. 

Take a close look at the detail from the unfinished painting Salvatore Mundi; the delicate crisscross of lines to build up the shadows and the precise, meticulous curls of beard are mindboggling.  And just think - this was only the preparatory work!

Try Your Hand

Below is a selection of several Durer drawings for you to download as PDFs and to try copying - or even for you to get a closer look at the wonderful meticulous detail of this artist's work.  Some are further below in the gallery as well. 

These are especially challenging subjects to copy - don't be discouraged!  Rather, try taking a small part of one you like and practice squinting at the drawing to see where the lights and darks are, and setting your pencil almost horizontal to the paper, make sweeping little strokes to shade in the shadows and leave bare paper for the lights.

Feeling like you want to take it further?  Get yourself a fine-tipped artist felt pen - Faber Castell makes good ones - and try copying the lines of a little piece of one of these complex drawings that the master himself must have spent a great deal of time on.

1. As mentioned above, Hands Praying (1508) was done by Durer as a study for apostle's hands in the center panel of the Heller altar triptych. In this drawing we can admire the artist's technique that allows him to create, with tiny scratches of his pen, a drawing so realistic that even the veins are visible.

2. The Great Piece of Turf (1502) was realized with watercolor, pen and ink. This drawing's striking realism captures the movement of plants growing in different directions with great naturalness. A few of the plants have even been identified, such as dandelions and greater plantains.

3. The Old Man of 93 Years Old (1521) is a portrait Albrecht Durer drew probably in preparation for a painted representation of St Jerome. The artist noted about his model with some apparent marvel: "The man was 93 years old and still healthy".

14. The Rhinoceros (1515) is a drawing Albrecht Durer did of a specimen the Portuguese brought back from India and that was in Lisbon at the time. The artist didn't actually see the creature but based his work on eyewitness reports - hence a few errors in the anatomy. Nevetheless, this drawing was a great sucess at the time and was reproduced even in textbooks for over 300 years.

5. The Walrus (1520) is a drawing Durer realized while traveling in Holland. He originally had wanted to do a whale, but as there wasn't one available he drew instead a walrus that may have been either alive or dead at the time of his composition. Durer wrote on the upper left-hand corner that: "This animal of which I have drawn the head here, was caught in the Dutch Sea and mesures 12 ells and 4 feet".

6. Melancolia (1514) is one of Durer's greatest and well-known engravings, not only because of its complexity, but also for the topic that is represented. Indeed, the objects of science and knowlege set out before the angel have been the subject of much scholarly discussion and debate. 

7. The Winged Man Playing a Lute (1497) is a drawing Durer created with metal point. Take a good look at how wonderfully he represented the shadow falling over the fabric to suggest the shapes underneath it. 

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Know and love Durer...

Take a look at this little gallery of Durer drawings to observe how this master resolved certain problems in representing the world with his own vision.

Durer, Portrait of His Mother

Durer, Winged Man Playing Lute

Durer, Cupid the Honey Thief

Durer, Grim Reaper

Durer, Design for a Goblet

Durer, Study of Feet of Apostle

Durer, Laughing Peasant Woman

Durer, Lobster

Durer, Mary Seated with Child

Durer, Self Portrait with Bandage

Durer, Sleeping Lioness

Durer, Portrait of Man Aged 93

Durer, Study of Man with Drill

Durer, Study of Praying Hands of Apostle

Durer, Walrus

Durer, Young Hare

Go from "Albrecht Durer Drawings" to "Michelangelo Art"

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