“If a man devotes himself to art, much evil is avoided that happens otherwise if one is idle.” This quote is from one of the most important artists of the Northern Renaissance, Albrecht Dürer. Dürer is widely known for his captivating self-portraits and nature paintings. However, I argue his printmaking was one of his most important series of work.
According to Dr. Jacob Wisse of Yeshiva University, Dürer “was born in the Franconian city of Nuremberg, one of the strongest artistic and commercial centers in Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.” Wisse states how Dürer, during his childhood, “apprenticed with his father, who was a goldsmith, and with the local painter Michael Wolgemut, whose workshop produced woodcut illustrations for major books and publications.”
However, as a young artist, Dürer wanted to advance the skills he learned from his apprenticeship. Union College Assistant Professor of Art and Graphic Design Alan Orrison asserts Dürer, “revolutionized printmaking, elevating what was previously a simple technical craft to a legitimate form of fine art. Personally, I've always been drawn to the incredible tonal range in his woodcut prints, with deep, rich shadows supporting blazing bright highlights. His prints are full of powerful storytelling.”
Dürer’s ability to push beyond the boundaries of a relatively new medium at a young age only foreshadowed his sheer ingenious creativity that continued throughout his career.
Dürer’s creativity wasn’t limited to his artistic talent. He also had an innovative mind for marketing. For example, if you were to look at a majority of his prints you would notice a common theme—he incorporates his notorious AD monogram or his name into some part of the print. This allowed Dürer to not only share his work more widely and easily with the printing press but also make sure his work was tied to him and his artistic brand.
Dürer’s ability to market himself was bound to catch some attention. Wisse holds that “Dürer’s talent, ambition, and sharp, wide-ranging intellect earned him the attention and friendship of some of the most prominent figures in German society. He became official court artist to Holy Roman Emperors Maximilian I and his successor Charles V, for whom Dürer designed and helped execute a range of artistic projects.”
Dürer didn’t only catch the eye of the Imperial court, but also Lutherans in the Reformation. Orrison suggests “his religious subject matter appealed to early Protestants, which probably contributed to his popularity. In fact, he’s still celebrated within the Lutheran faith…” Dürer left his mark both literally and commercially in a way that causes him to remain a celebrated artist to this day.
Dürer was advanced for his time. He pushed the boundaries of the relatively new revolutionary medium of the printing press into an independent art form. I believe he knew how to use his creative talent to market himself as an artist across Northern Europe. However, don’t take my word for it; the artist himself once said, “Why has God given me such magnificent talent? It’s a curse as well as a great blessing.”
Cameron Cizek is a junior studying computing.