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Duerer, Albrecht

1. Dates
Born: Nuremberg, 21 May 1471
Died: Nuremberg, 6 Apr 1528
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 57
2. Father
Occupation: Artisan
His father was Albrecht Duerer, the elder, a goldsmith who had emigrated from Hungary and settled in Nuremberg. He received his master's qualification in 1468, became weigher and tester of minting blanks in 1470, and a juryman (Geschwornener) and foreman of his profession in 1482-1488. In 1482 he became a local government official (Gassenhauptman). In 1483, he was registered as holding a share of the mine at Goldkronach. (See N.d.B., 4:163a-164b)
No clear evidence of his financial status. Panofsky calls the father hard working and not particularly prosperous. He also calls him lower middle class. However, Duerer's godfather was the greatest printer in Germany, and Duerer's closest friend, from youth until death, Willibald Pirckheimer, was a wealthy patrician.
3. Nationality
Birth: Nuremberg, Germany
Career: Nuremberg, Germany
Death: Nuremberg, Germany
4. Education
Schooling: No University
He attended Latin school at St. Lorenz and then learned goldsmithing as an apprentice to his father.
1486-9, he studied as an apprentice in the workshop of the painter Michael Wolgemut, learning painting, wood- and copper-engraving.
1490-4, he did his Wanderjahre in accordance with the customs of the painting guild, travelling through the Upper Rhine, Colmar, Basel, and Strasbourg.
1494-5, visted Venice to learn about the new Renaissance philosophy and art techniques.
1495, started to study mathematics and architecture from ancient classics by himself.
1505-7, returned to Italy. He stayed in Venice, but also visited Bologna.
1520-1, travelled to the Netherlands where he saw the work of the early Flemish masters.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic, Lutheran
Some sources say that he remained a Catholic, though he was sympathetic with the reformers, especially in 1524. Panofsky, however, asserts without reservation that Duerer converted to Lutheranism (if one can use the term that early) in 1519, and for good. I am accepting Panofsky.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics
Toward the end of his career Duerer published Underweysung der Messung, a book in practical geometry.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Art
During his Wanderjahre (1490-1494) he presumably worked as a draftsman for various printers along his journey.
1494, his father arranged his marriage with Agnes Fey, the daughter of Hans Fey, a prosperous mechanician and instrument maker. This brought Duerer increased social standing and a generous dowry.
1495, he set himself up as a master in his own workshop, working mostly as a draftsman doing wood- and copper- engraving, but also making altar pieces. We can infer that he was successful from the fact that he adopted his distinctive AD monogram in 1497 to prevent counterfeiting of his work.
8. Patronage
Types: City Magistrate, Merchant, Court Official, Government Official, Eccesiastic Official, Aristrocrat
A good freind and patron of Duerer's was Willibald Pirckheimer, an almost exact contemporary of Duerer who was a member of the Nuremberg patriciate. Duerer executed a portrait of him, and had access to his extensive library. He also accompanied him on a diplomatic mission to Switzerland in 1519, and he dedicated his Underweysung to Pirckheimer. However, there is every indication of a true friendship of equals here; I cannot count this as patronage.
In 1505 while in Venice he undertook various work, including a large altar painting for the church of the German merchants.
Johannes Werner, the mathematician; Johann Tscherte, the imperial architect; and Nicholas Kratzer, the court astronomer to Henry VIII of England are also mentioned as patrons of Duerer, but I have as yet found no more specific information regarding their relationships.
In 1512, Duerer was called on to do a series of drawings of the Emperor Maximilian I, who came through Nuremberg (4- 15 Feb 1512). In 1515, Duerer requested and received a life-long pension of 100 gulden per year. In 1518, Duerer was sent with other representatives of Nuremberg to the Reichstag, where he made a charcoal sketch of the Emperor which laid the foundation for his portrait and etchings of the Emperor. He acted quickly to secure the money due him and the continuation of the pension by Charles V after Maximilian died in 1519.
Christian II of Denmark had his portrait done in 1521. Duerer subsequently attended the banquet that Christian gave to honor the Emperor and Margaret of Austria. This event is noted as an early example of the higher social standing of artists.
Frederick the Wise of Saxony commissioned a number of paintings from Duerer over an extensive period of time and was an enduring patron.
Duerer did paintings as one time or another for a number of German merchants including a portrait of Jacob Fugger.
The city of Nuremberg commissioned "portraits" of Charlemagne and Sigismund in 1512. In 1526 he completed paintings of the four apostles which he gave to the city; he received in return 100 guilders for himself plus twelve for his wife and two for his servant. He also did portraits of some of the Nuremberg magistrates.
He did a portrait on a woodblock of Ulrich Varnbueler, Protonotarius of the Emperorl and an oil portrait of Lorenz Stern, a tax collector of Brabant.
He did engravings of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg and of Melanchthon.
It is clear from the list above that Duerer's patronage was for his art, not for his learning. However, it appears to me that I need to list it.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Military Engineering, Instruments, Cartography
Duerer was, of course, a talented artist and engraver. Many of his works are devoted to the mathematical aspects of art.
Duerer also wrote Befestigungslehre. Etliche underricht zu befestigung der stett schloss und flecken (1527) which summarizes the science of fortification. Many of his suggestions were incorporated by the city of Nuremberg. This work is said to have been dictated by fear of a Turkish invasion.
He also worked on globes, celestial charts, and armillary spheres.
He invented a device to aid in doing perspective for pictures.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
He maintained a long friendship with the humanist Pirckheimer, and he had some association with Conrad Fuchs.
Sources
  1. Hans Jantzen, Neue deutsche Biographie 4, 164b-169b.
  2. E. Panofsky, Albrecht Duerer, 3rd ed. (Princeton, 1955).
  3. Note: Needless to say, there is an abundance of literature about Duerer which I have not attempted to exhaust.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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1995 Al Van Helden
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