Gothic Era

 

 



Albrecht Durer


 
 



 
   
Gothic Art Map
 
   
   
Exploration:
Albrecht Durer
 
 
    Formative Years: The First Journeys, 1483-1494    
    First Trip to Italy, 1494-1495    
    Durer's Workshop in Nuremberg, 1495-1505    
    Second Trip to Italy, 1505-1507    
    Nuremberg, 1507-1520    
    Journey to the Netherlands, 1520-1521    
    Final Years in Nuremberg, 1521-1528    
    The Self-Portraits    
    Conclusion    
    Chronological Table    
         
    GRAPHICS
 
   
    Exploration: Gothic Era  (Gothic and Early Renaissance)
 
 
   






Durer's Workshop in Nuremberg, 1495-1505


Upon his return from Venice, in the spring of 1495, Durer opened his own workshop in Nuremberg. In the beginning, he concentrated his energy on the profitable production of woodcuts, which were also devoted to the illustration of entire series, like the Great Passion and the Apocalypse, and a great deal of engravings. For the engravings, he was not lacking subjects of classical character from the moment in which he regularly started mixing with the humanist circles of the city. In those years, his relationship with Frederick the Wise began, which, in the course of his life, brought him quite a few commissions. He also had a lot of other kinds of work, including portraits, devotional images, and altarpieces, in which his treasured Venetian experience is often reflected (see the Haller Madonna). In addition, his theoretical studies had begun, especially those on human proportions, studies that had a great influence on his work. From time to time, he depicted himself, almost as if to measure how his ability and sensibility were being refined with time. The peak was reached with his famous Self-Portrait with Fur Coat of 1500.

 
 



 


St Jerome in the Wilderness


This small panel, which only since 1957 has been recognized as an original, was previously attributed to the Veronese painter Giovanni Francesco Caroto (1488-1555). It was probably painted during the first Venetian sojourn of the master. This hypothesis is corroborated not only by the fact that the painting, in all likelihood, remained in Italy, but also by the presence of a lion, which is modeled on a study on parchment which Durer did in Venice, initialed and dated 1494 (W 65) (Note: Durer's drawings are cited with Winkler's numeration (W), 1936-1939.). Even the rocks to the right recall the studies of the master during his trip to Venice. On the other hand, the goldfinch and the bullfinch by the creek, the butterfly and the plants in the foreground appear simply as many small individual studies. The morning sky behind the rapt gaze of the penitent creates a dramatic atmosphere that we do not find even in Bellini's works. This reflects the interior struggles of the saint: an exceptional demonstration of the artist's talent at twenty-four years of age. Judging from the numerous copies that were made, the work had a strong resonance during this time, especially in the circle of Altdorfer, Cranach, and Baldung.
On the posterior side of the panel is a comet or a meteor; it is perhaps the record of a celestial event that took place on 7 November 1492, which Durer could have observed from Basel.


St Jerome in the Wilderness
c. 1495
National Gallery, London

       
  

                                  
                 


The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin
c. 1496
Alte Pinakothek, Munchen and Gemaldegalerie, Dresden
             
           

The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin: Mother of Sorrows
c. 1496
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
      
              

The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin
c. 1496
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
        
          

The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin
c. 1496
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
             
                

The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin (detail)
c. 1496
Alte Pinakothek, Munchen and Gemaldegalerie, Dresden



 

     


Portrait of Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony


In 1700, this portrait was in the possession of an English painter, collector, and art merchant in Florence, Ignazio Hugford. It was from his heirs that the grand duke Pietro Leopoldo acquired it in I 779. From the Uffizi, it was passed on to Antonio Armano, and from him it was acquired by William von Bode, in 1882, for the gallery of Berlin. In all probability, it was executed by Durer in April 1496, during the prince elector of Saxony's (1463-1525) sojourn in Nuremberg.
The painting appears quite dark because the painting was not only applicated on a new canvas, but received in addition, varnish on top of the tempera painting which is not a common procedure. The position of the arm leaning on a window sill and the hands, placed one on the other, recalls the Self-Portrait with Gloves of Durer of 1498 at the Prado. It is the first portrait done of the elector, who was twenty-four at the time. The penetrating gaze and the creased forehead are the most striking features. These characteristics were not as evident in the following portraits Durer executes, and not even in the numerous portraits that Lucas Cranach, the court painter, made of Frederick the Wise. The prince did have large eyes, but Durer portrays them in this painting—and only in this one—with such an obstinate expression ("heroic-shadowy," according to Panofsky, 1955) that it makes one think that the artist's chief intention was to bring out the qualities of a learned man and a responsible and farsighted sovereign. There is also a scroll of parchment that emphasizes this intention. The aquiline nose, which does not appear as pronounced in other portraits, denotes magnanimity, according to ancient treatises on physiognomy. At the same time, the artist wanted to provide a conciliating and relaxing counterbalance to the severe expression of the face (which was also emphasized by the heavy black garment edged with a gold brocade and by the black cloak thrown over his left shoulder) by painting the beautiful hands resting on the window sill with great finesse. Perhaps the unusual portrayal of the prince can be explained more simply as Durer's attempt to express in painting ancient theories of physiognomy.


Portrait of Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony
1496
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

        

 
                    
         
           

Portrait of Durer's Father at 70

The city of Nuremberg consigned the portrait to Howard Earl of Arundel in 1636, along with the Self-Portrait with Gloves of 1498 (today in the Prado in Madrid), as a diptych, to be given to King Charles I of England.
On the verso of the panel, visible traces of handwriting bear witness to the date of donation: 18 March 1637 (Oliver Millar, Walpole Society 37, 1958-60). The National Gallery acquired it in 1904 from the Marquise of Northampton. After his first trip to Italy, Durer painted his father a second time (for the first portrait, see Portrait of Durer's Father, 1490). Seven years separate the painting of the first and the second portraits, and despite the fact that his father had aged and his wrinkles had deepened, in the later image he looks more vivid and more spontaneous than in the first, dated 1490. The difference shows how much Durer's art had matured in these seven years, and how his sensibilities and his abilities to penetrate the human character and to show it in painting had grown sharper. The weak color of the background reveals that that part of the portrait was probably not finished, but the posture of the head demonstrates that the master intended to create a portrait of his father that was characteristic and representative.
The light does not fall directly on his face; rather, one almost has the impression that it radiates from the head, the high forehead, the delicate cheeks, the thin lips, the pronounced chin, and the neck. The master shows a shadow on only one side of the face, with a darker tone on the cheek. The clear expression of the face, with the small and attentive eyes directed to the painter and to the observer, is highlighted by the brown beret, which, with the two side flaps lifted, shows a wide forehead.
Durer's talent for observation makes this painting, which was executed with a very fine brush, a masterpiece of intuition, psychological penetration, and great personal affection. The serious gaze of this man, revealing the great peace of mind attained through the trials of life, directs itself, with a certain pride, at the son who stands before him.
Such immediacy of expression would not have been possible for the painter to achieve for a commissioned portrait; it results from the close relationship Durer had with the person before him, his father. It would be difficult for him to achieve such a sense of immediacy and spontaneity in any future portraits.
Various documents prove that this work was included with the self-portrait of Durer of 1498 within a single frame, that is, when they were both still property of the city council of Nuremberg, and when they were part of the collection of Charles I of England. It is a unique example among typical diptychs, which were always composed of separate portraits of a married couple.
Even if the scale of these portraits more or less corresponds, their backdrops do not harmonize formally or chromatically. In addition, they were painted a year apart from each other.
We do not know if it was Durer himself who framed them together to demonstrate his affection for his father, or whether it was the council of Nuremberg that wanted this framing (described in an inventory of 1625) to give homage to the city's most famous son and to his father, a well-known and respected goldsmith.
 


  

  

Portrait of Durer's Father at 70
1497
National Gallery, London

 




    
                 

Portrait of a Young Furleger with Loose Hair

This portrait, together with the following one, forms part of a rather uncommon diptych. The coats of arms, added shortly after and placed on the external side beside the portraits, were those of the same family, even though the coats of arms are different: one has a cross between two fish, the other an upside-down lily. The emperor Sigismund had authorized the families of ecclesiastic members to add a cross to their own coats of arms. For this reason, it was deduced that the young woman portrayed with loose hair, the coral bracelet, the hands joined in prayer, and her head bowed down had devoted herself to the cloistered life. The Latin inscription added to the engraving Wenzel Hollar modeled on this painting, also recommended following in the path of Christ.
The very fine brushstrokes of this exquisite painting and the sharp distinction between the areas in light and those in shadow give the face a sense of plasticity, endowing it with a particularly vivid expression. Fritz Grossmann demonstrated, in an essay from 1944 in Burlington Magazine, that this and the following portrait truly formed a pair of portraits and that they were acquired together in 1636 in Nuremberg by the count of Arundel, whose engraver, Wenzel Hollar, made two engravings modeled from them. It should be noted that the young woman with the loose hair also rests her arms on a window sill.
In 1673, the portraits were acquired, together as always, by the bishop of Olmiitz, from whom they later went on to Carl von Waagen, of Munich. Afterward, the two portraits were separated.


Portrait of a Young Furleger with Loose Hair
1497
Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt






                




Portrait of a Young Furleger with Her Hair Done Up

When the portraits were still together, they passed on from Carl von Waagen to other owners, until it alone was finally acquired by the museums of Berlin in 1977. The various restorations have partially or entirely destroyed areas of the landscape and the inscription on the card at the top; the same holds true for the small statue of the prophet, inserted in the window post, which, from the side, looked toward the other portrait and in whose book Durer had written his monogram, as Wenzel Hollar's engraving shows. At one time, the two portraits were considered to be two representations of the same person, namely, Katharina Furleger. The series of letters on the trim of the blouse also seemed to point to this; however, they are probably the initials of a motto. Today, it is generally believed that they are portraits of two younger sisters of the Furleger family. The portrait, along with the following one, acts as part of a fairly uncommon diptych; it is the representation of the two Furleger sisters of Nuremberg. In contrast to the other young woman, depicted with loose hair, this one—an eighteen-year-old, according to the inscription-wears her hair in large braids wrapped around her head, a sign that she opted for marriage. Her defiant gaze is also proof of this. Similarly allude the sprigs of sea holly (Eryngium campestre) and Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum), symbols of conjugal fidelity and eroticism, which she holds in her hand. Note that one of the portraits has a neutral background, while the other has a window with a landscape scene. One interpretation could be that one of the young women renounces the world, while the other welcomes it openly. In both figures, Durer reveals pathologic symptoms: the young woman with the loose hair has goiter, and the two of them show signs of arthritis in their hands.
 


Portrait of a Young Furleger with Her Hair Done Up
1497
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

 




                





Portrait of a Man


Heinz Kisters acquired this painting in 1952 from the antique market in London. The state of preservation, following the removal of one layer of a painting that had been painted over it, appears relatively good. The painting has been included among the Durer's original works by Fedja Anzelewsky (1991), who compares it with the Portrait of Durer's father of 1497.
The contrast between the internal strength that emanates from his face, and the wisdom and foresight in his eyes, on the one hand—and the messy and wild hair, on the other, effectively demonstrates the breadth of Durer's skills as a painter, even if the completely distorted perspective of the left shoulder remains inexplicable.


Portrait of a Man
1497-98
Heinz Kisters Collection, Kreuzlingen
 

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