Albrecht Durer: the most famous signature in art

artist durer engraver german hare italian printmaker renaissance signature May 31, 2021

Albrecht Durer: the most famous signature in art

Albrecht Dürer was one of the most important figures of the Northern Renaissance. Dürer's vast body of work includes engravings, altarpieces, portraits, self-portraits and books. His watercolours mark him as one of the first European landscape artists, while his woodcuts revolutionised the potential of that medium.

Dürer was the master in the Renaissance of what we know in todays terms as ‘branding’. His signature and his work were literally everywhere. He cleverly used print to distribute his work, across Europe. His method providing inspiration for major artists such as Raphael and Titian, all of whom collaborated with printmakers to promote and distribute their work.

His ‘AD’ monogram became so esteemed — and valuable — that it was routinely forged by artists copying his work. Dürer even took one of these forgers to court. This is the first known copyright action in art history.

He was born in Nuremberg in 1471. His parents had 18 children, only 3 of whom survived to adulthood. His father was a successful goldsmith and his godfather was a prolific publisher owning 24 printing presses. Dürer learned both trades but his talent for drawing was apparent early on. 

At the age of 15 he became apprenticed to Michael Wolgemut, the leading artist in Nuremberg at the time. Here he was trained to produce a variety of works of art, in particular woodcuts for books. 

Nuremberg was then an important and prosperous city, a centre for publishing and many luxury trades. It had strong links with Italy, especially Venice, a relatively short distance across the Alps. He regularly travelled to over the border, was in contact with the major Italian artists of his time. Influences included Raphael, Bellini, Matenga and Leonardo da Vinci, and from 1512 was patronised by Emperor Maximilian I. 

His woodcuts show a strong Italian influence, complex and finely cut. 

He designed the pieces in the form of a drawing that he would have glued onto to the wood or sketched directly onto the block. Then specialist craftsmen, (block cutters) would have carved from his drawing.

Durer also created engravings which used the art of the Burin (a steel sharp cutting tool) which he would have learned to use as a goldsmith. This method was able to depict images in high detail including scenes such as landscapes, figures and animals. His use of chiaroscuro is highly developed and. particularly effective. His Rhino is a famous example. 

Durer created a large number of preparatory drawings for his engravings and prints in pen and ink, notably ‘The praying hands” c 1508. 

He also created many watercolour and gouache studies, most famously his Young Hare c 1502. 

Included in his huge body of work are also a large number of paintings of religious and secular nature.  As these were collected predominantly in private collections located in only a few cities, they did not achieve the fame that his printed work did. 

It was because of his prints and the relative ease of their reproduction that Dürer exerted a huge influence on the artists of succeeding generations.

His art undoubtedly was an inspiration for major artists such as Raphael, Titian and Parmigianino all of whom collaborated with printmakers to promote and distribute their work.

Durer also wrote books on the fortification of cities and castles and also on the theory human proportion. 


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For 10 interesting facts on Albrecht Durer you may also like to read this article:

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