The German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) was the artist of the northern renaissance; the somewhat delayed and chillier version of the renaissance in Italy. This was the major precursor to the protestant reformation. Dürer’s depictions of nature, portraiture, religious triptychs and symbolic scenes can be read as a tangled, yet elegant map of the rich intellectual firmament of that age. He was a vortex of his time.
Dürer is credited with illustrating one of the earliest European depictions of a rhinoceros and of military artillery. His woodcut Melancholia I is a rich, symbolic puzzle hiding a zoo of medieval and renaissance icons of melancholy, and I hope in a later post to write an article on how it connects with Goethe’s Faust and depictions of the medical radical and alchemist Paracelsus.
An artisan sympathetic to the work of Martin Luther, he nevertheless sustained much of the catholic tradition of religious artwork. In this way, like few artists of his time, he stands between the two polls at the break of the reformation.
Galileo, Kepler and Nietzsche commented on his work, as well as many other early modern and modern authors, such as the German W.G. Sebald. His works have been returned to time and time again for inspiration and reflection, yet few outside of the academic community seem to know much about him. Any artist, writer or philosopher seeking to understand their origins should turn to Dürer’s works, and see within them something of where next to venture.
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