Albrecht Durer, Or Albert, a German painter and engraver, born in Nuremberg, May 20, 1471, died there, April 6, 1528. His father was a Hungarian goldsmith settled in that town. "When 15 years old he was placed with Michael Wohlgemuth, the leading painter of Nuremberg. With him he remained four years, after which he travelled through Germany and the Low Countries, employing several years in the study not merely of his own art but of the most important collateral branches. He returned to Nuremberg in 1494, and soon after contracted a marriage which, according to the received tradition, was very unhappy. His earliest well authenticated picture bears the date of 1498, and is a portrait of himself. A similar portrait, dated 1500, and now in the Pinakothek at Munich, represents a man in the prime of life, standing in a dignified attitude, his hair falling over his shoulders. In his last portrait, a woodcut of the year 1527, the face is marked by lines of care, and the head is shorn of the flowing locks in which the artist was wont to take a complacent pride. In 1498 appeared his first great series of woodcuts, illustrating the Revelation of St. John; a work of singular power, in which the artist's imagination, however, is controlled by the fantastic element which then pervaded German art.
At the close of 1505, by the aid of his friend Wilibald Pirkheimer, Dtirer made a journey to northern Italy, and remained a considerable time at Venice, Bologna, and other places; but so firmly was he grounded in his peculiar style, that the graceful productions of the Italian schools had no influence upon him. From the time of his return to Nuremberg, in 1507, ensued a period of singular artistic activity, and among the great works which he then produced are the paintings of the "Martyrdom of the 10,000 Saints," at Vienna; the "Assumption of the Virgin," burned at Munich; the " Adoration of the Trinity," at Vienna; " Christ taken from the Cross," at Nuremberg; and the "Adoration of the Magi," at Florence; the woodcut series of the " Greater Passion" and "Lesser Passion," the "Life of the Virgin," and the " Triumphal Arch of the Emperor Maximilian;" the copperplate engravings of " The Knight, Death, and the Devil," "Melancholy," and "St. Jerome;" and portraits of his friends Pirkheimer, Melanch-thon, and Erasmus. The print of " The Knight, Death, and the Devil" suggested to Fouque his tale of "Sintram and his Companions." It is supposed that the woodcuts which pass under Durer's name were cut by engravers from his drawings on the wood.
He was very prosperous, and enjoyed the friendship of many of the most learned men of the day. The people of his native town delighted to honor him, and for many years he was one of its chief burghers. The emperors Maximilian I. and Charles V. successively appointed him court painter, and the chief cities of Germany were emulous for the possession of his works. In 1520 Durer made a second journey to the Netherlands, and under the influence of this visit his subsequent works exhibit a soberer feeling and a refinement of his exuberant fancy. In 1526 were produced his two pictures containing life-size figures of the apostles John and Peter, and Mark and Paul, which were among his last, as they are generally esteemed his grandest works, and which he presented to the council of his native city. At this time Durer had embraced the doctrines of the reformation, and these paintings are supposed to have conveyed the artist's exhortation to his countrymen to stand firm in the new faith. - As an engraver and a painter Durer was one of the most remarkable men of an age prolific of great artists.
In painting, he raised German art to an excellence which passed away with him; he found engraving in its infancy, and carried it to a perfection never since surpassed; he cultivated architecture and sculpture, and wrote valuable treatises on geometry and fortification, with a purity of style evincing a profound knowledge of the German language. He was the first German artist who taught the rules of perspective, and insisted on the study of anatomy. He rejected the classic ideal, which Raphael and his contemporaries had so successfully realized. Hence his strange attitudes, his fanciful draperies, his over-elaborate costumes and accessories, and the Gothic element which seems to pervade all his works. His wonderful creations, nevertheless, surprised and delighted the Italians. Raphael had the highest admiration of his genius, and sent him a drawing executed by his own hand. The memory of Durer is held in great veneration by the people of Nuremberg, who preserve his house with religious care. On the 300th anniversary of his birth the corner stone of a monument to his memory was laid there; and in May, 1840, the work was completed by the addition of a bronze statue of the artist by Rauch. - See Charles Narrey, Albert Durer a Venue et dans les Pays-Das (illustrated, Paris, 1866); A. von Eye, Albert Durer (Nordlingen, 1867); Mrs. Heaton, "History of the Life of Albert Durer of Nuremberg" (London, 1869); William B. Scott, " Life and Works of Albert Durer" (London, 1869). A collection of his engravings has been reproduced under the care of Kaulbach (14 numbers, Nuremberg, 1857-'61).