Gothic Era



Albrecht Durer

Gothic Art Map
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    
    Chronological Table    
    Exploration: Gothic Era  (Gothic and Early Renaissance)



Journey to the Netherlands, 1520-1521

In that epoch, the Netherlands represented, after Italy, the second place of great art. The opportunity to go there presented itself to Durer with the coronation of Charles V in Aachen. The artist needed to have him confirm the lifelong annuity granted by his predecessor, Maximilian.
Durer, this time accompanied by his wife and his maidservant, Susanna, set off 12 July 1520. He arrived first in Bamberg, where he was the guest of the bishop; Durer gave him a Madonna painting, among other things, receiving in turn valuable letters of recommendation and customs admittances that allowed him to continue his journey with greater ease. Traveling along the Main and the Rhine, passing through Frankfurt, Mainz, and Cologne, he arrived in Antwerp, a big metropolis and, at that time, a capital center of commerce. We have a meticulous and interesting account of the long trip from the artist's diary.
In Aachen, where he went from Antwerp, Durer joined the delegation of the town council of Nuremberg, which was bringing the imperial insignia, kept in the city for the coronation of Charles V. He was its guest for the duration of his stay, which lasted several weeks, and on 23 October he attended the coronation. Once back in Antwerp, the artist was able to attend the triumphant entrance of Charles V into that city.

Wherever his travels took him—to Antwerp, Bruges, or Brussels—Durer had an enthusiastic welcome: the artists organized lavish festivities in his honor, and the city authorities invited him to processions and banquets. King Christian of Denmark, whose portrait he painted, had him as his guest at a banquet he organized in honor of Margaret, the daughter of Maximilian I. The city of Antwerp offered him an annual salary of 500 florins plus accommodation to entice him to take up permanent residence there, according to accounts in his diary.
Durer's portrait-painting activity continued without pause, as the twenty oil portraits and roughly one hundred drawings prove. He gave away and sold his paintings and graphic art, which enabled him to pay his travel expenses. It was in that period that he developed and polished his characteristic style of portraiture, distinct in being both imposing and psychologically acute. Unfortunately, many of the paintings that were executed in those years have been lost, as, for example, the one from Antwerp of King Christian II of Denmark. From the portrait of a ninety-three-year-old man, which he writes about in his diary without mentioning his name, came The Portrait of Saint Jerome. Several drawings of cityscapes (Antwerp Harbor) and animals demonstrate his unwavering curiosity and creativity, qualities that led him to Zeeland where he had wanted to go to view from up close a beached whale. He didn't see the whale, but caught a serious strain of fever—possibly malaria—that brought him terrible, prolonged suffering.
During his stay in the Netherlands, Durer was able to see churches and city halls and works of important artists, including the paintings of Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, and in Bruges, Michelangelo's Madonna. He was received by Margaret of Austria, daughter of Maximilian I, at her residence in Malines, where he had the opportunity to admire her important art collection. In Brussels, he was able to see how much had been brought over to Charles V from the "New Country of Gold." Wherever he was, he tried to acquire or receive little curiosities, including objects from the Indies, which were fashionable to collect at that time. He met with many artists, including Joos van Cleve, Lukas van Leyden, and Joachim Patinier, the last whose wedding he attended. In Antwerp, he met Erasmus of Rotterdam and drew his portrait.



Head of a Woman

c. 1520
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris


Antwerp Harbor
Vienna, Albertina



St Jerome
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon


Saint Jerome

In 1521, during his sojourn in the Netherlands, Durer depicted in pen and ink on violet paper an old man of ninety-three from Antwerp, noch gesunt und ver-muglich (still bright and healthy), as his annotation reads (W 788), In that study, the expression and the position of the subject were very similar to those of the Saint Jerome of the painting, while the gaze is closer to that of the old man of a later drawing (W 789), in which only the head is shown.
The two drawings and the painting demonstrate an extraordinary capacity of observation and a mastery of execution. Other drawings also exist, executed with great care concerning the details of the painting.
Saint Jerome, one of the four fathers of the Church, translated the Bible: Durer expresses this with the presence of a pen and ink-pot and an open book on a book rest. The old man has a melancholic air, his posture as in his gaze. His index finger, which indicates a skull, admonishes the spectator: "remember the ephemeral nature of all earthly things." Already in a famous engraving, Saint Jerome in His Study (Hieronymus im Gehaus) of 1514, judged as one of the three all time masterpieces of copper engravings, Durer had added a skull, placed on the window sill, to the figure of the cardinal saint. But only in the Lisbon painting is there a clear declaration: memento mori. At the same time, the presence of the sacred texts seems intended to recall invariability and continuity. The still life of the books and the skull, typical of painting in the Netherlands, reveals the influence of the time and place in which the painting was made.
Another characteristic distinguishes this one from other paintings: Durer represents the saint in a half-length, thus creating a new type of image. In the Netherlands, the painting and the new manner would have many imitators (Panofsky, 1955).
In a note in his travel diary, written after the date 16 March 1521 (Lugli, 1995), Durer sais that he gave the painting to "Rodrigo of Portugal." It would be Rodrigo Fernandez de Almada, of a Portuguese business agency in Antwerp, with whom Durer had struck up a friendship. The painting remained property of the de Almada family until the nineteenth century; the Portuguese state acquired it between 1880 and 1882.



Portrait of a Man with Baret and Scroll

The last digit of the date is not clearly legible (1 or 4?), but the fact that the panel is oak indicates that the painting must have been carried out during Durer's trip to the Netherlands. The hypotheses regarding the name of the subject are various. The most frequent are: the one of Lorenz Sterck, an administrator and financial curator of the Brabant and of Antwerp, and that of Jobst Plankfelt, Durer's innkeeper in Antwerp. These names are frequently suggested since Durer writes in his diary that he had done oil portraits of them (Luigi, 1995). I find it difficult to imagine an innkeeper who made himself depicted with a scroll in his hand. Whereas it seems much more plausible that the imposing subject characterized by a severe and scrutinizing gaze—clad in a silk shirt, a cloak with a fur collar, and a large beret—corresponds to a tax collector. But whoever the subject is, the portrait is.; regardless one of the most beautiful and' incisive that Durer ever created. He manages, with an image constrained by such a limited space, to communicate the impression of being in front of a personality of a supremely concentrated energy—and all that by using simple and pale colors, whose effect is unfortunately partly obfuscated by the heavy varnish covering the painting.

Portrait of a Man with Baret and Scroll
Museo del Prado, Madrid


Portrait of Bernhard von Reesen

This painting has been in its present location since the eighteenth century. An annotation Durer made in Antwerp in his travel diary of the Netherlands in March 1521 reveals: "Item I did Bernhart Resten's oil portrait. He gave 8 florins to me, a crown to my wife and a florin worth 24 stuber to Susanna" (the maidservant who accompanied Durer and his wife) (Lugli, 1995). The name of the subject, written on the folded letter that he is holding, is still quite decipherable.
Rodrigo de Almada, portrayed in the same year 1521, poses in front of a neutral, pale sky-blue background; Durer chose a warm shade of red for Bernhard von Reesen. The well-preserved state allows for a full appreciation, from a formal point of view and a pictorial one, the mastery of the painter.
He gives the thirty-year-old subject an intense physical and spiritual charm. This work further demonstrates the extraordinary span of Durer's portraiture up until his final years.

Portrait of Bernhard von Reesen
Gemaldegalerie, Dresden


Final Years in Nuremberg, 1521-28

Upon Durer's return to Nuremberg, the city assigned him to prepare some projects to renew the decoration of the city hall; at least one of the preparatory drawings had a classical theme, which represents the Slander of Apelles. However, his work for the city never went beyond the initial project. At the same time, he was executing various drawings for an impressive altarpiece, for which work never even began. The main enterprise of this final period of his life was the completion of various theoretical texts: a treatise on geometry, 1525; a treatise on fortification, 1527; and the treatise on human proportions, 1528, which was published posthumously. In any case, there were many noteworthy portraits, mainly in the form of woodcuts and engravings, but also oil paintings: from that of Jakob Muffel (Portrait of Jakob Muffel) to that of Johannes Kleberger (Portrait of Johannes Kleberger). Last, he painted the Four Apostles, which he wanted to leave to the city as a spiritual inheritance.


Portrait of Jakob Muffel

This painting was passed into a private Russian collection from the Schonborn collection in pommersfelden, where it was in 1867. In 1870, in Saint Petersburg, it was transferred on canvas. In 1883, it was acquired in an auction from the Narischkin collection, in Paris, for the Berlin art gallery.
Jakob Muffel, first a town councilor, then a mayor for the city of Nuremberg (1514), was a friend of Durer's. He died 26 April 1526; the portrait, dated 1526, must have been from the first months of that year. Even if its dimensions correspond roughly to those of the portraits Durer executed in the Netherlands, it stands out from these for some particulars. As in the Portrait of Hieronymus Holzschuher, of the same year, Durer brings the head close to the spectator, moving it upward at the same time. There is no sign whatsoever of any decoration or of representativeness. On the contrary, the artist dwells affectionately on the details of the physiognomy of the subjects. He retouches the pronounced nose of Jakob in the shape of a duck's beak and brings out the calm expression of the open face, with the high forehead edged by a simple black beret decorated with three golden ribbons: a personal and incisive way to expose the incorruptible virtue of his friend.

Portrait of Jakob Muffel
Staatliche Museen, Berlin




Portrait of Hieronymus Holzschuher

This painting belonged to the family until it was acquired by the Gemaldegalerie in 1884.
As in the case of Jakob Muffel, portrayed the same year. Durer portrayed Holzschuher (1469-1529)—another friend who was a mayor many times in Nuremberg—without arms or hands, from the shoulders up. The head almost touches the upper edge of the painting.
The person, clad in an overcoat trimmed with a fur collar, is drawn slightly from the side, and the animated eyes are looking with severe gaze at the spectator in the opposite direction. This technique was adopted by Durer in only one other instance, for the Portrait of Oswolt Krell.
The face, from the well-defined lips is framed by flowing, wavy hair, and thus takes on a particularly alive expression, chiefly due to the brightness of the eyes.
This is the penultimate portrait that Durer has left us. One more time, the master unfolds his exquisite ability in finely sketching out with a brush the details of the fur, the beard, and the hair, distinguishing one from the other. It is an ability that was highly appreciated and praised by his colleagues during his Venetian sojourns.
This portrait, besides being a masterful interpretation of the subject's character, has another characteristic: along with the very simple frame, the sliding lid that was used to protect the painting was preserved.
It is not a portrait meant to be hung, but rather, to be put away, perhaps in a wardrobe.
The date is reproduced on the lid, as are the coats of arms of the Holzschuher family and the Muntzer family, the latter the wife Dorotea's.

Portrait of Hieronymus Holzschuher
Staatliche Museen, Berlin






Portrait of Johannes Kleberger
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Portrait of Johannes Kleberger

In 1564, Willibald Imhoff, the child from the first marriage of Johannes Kleberger's second wife, Felicita Pirckheimer (who had first married Hans Imhoff), acquired the painting in Lyon from Johannes's son, David Kleberger. In 1588, it was sold by Willibald's heirs to Emperor Rudolph II. From Prague, it went to the Schatzkam-mer in Vienna and, in 1748, to the gallery. Among the three portraits Durer painted in 1526—Hieronymus Holzschuher, Jakob Muffel, and Johannes Kleberger (1486-1546)—the last was distinct for the format of the frame and for the depiction: the man, in fact, is sketched in a bas relief, in a half-bust, and inserted, classically, in a clypeus. It is an unusual depiction among Durer's works, which has largely puzzled art historians. But since portraits in bas-relief on medallions were often found on the facades of Renaissance buildings in France, where Kleberger lived for a long time, it is quite likely that the patron himself had requested the artist to portray him in this way. Durer's innovation was that of vivifying the portrait in bas relief on a medallion of fake stone, giving him the colors of a live, if pale, complexion. Durer, as has already been noted (by, among others, Rabel, 1991), takes up again the age-old theme of the comparison of the figurative arts, or, more specifically, the discussion of the predominance of one on the other. He interprets this discussion by presenting an image in sculpture, with its light and shadow, giving at the same time the signs of a painted portrait. Thus, even while maintaining, in the steadiness of the gaze, the immobile plasticity of a sculpted image, characteristic of the portraits of emperors during classical times, the result is a particularly vivid portrait, since it expresses the power of the subject and his extremely ambitious character. Johannes Kleberger, on the whole, had good reason to be proud of himself working for the Imhoff merchants in Bern and especially in Lyon—a city that, because of its geographical position, had become a huge trading center with branches of very important German merchants—he
had accumulated a sizable wealth that allowed him, in 1522, to provide a loan for Francis I of France. During his sojourn in Nuremberg, in 1525-26, he had Durer paint his portrait and, after having married the daughter of Willibald Pirckheimer, Felicita, the widow of Hans Imhoff, he returned to Lyon, where he acquired various properties. In 1543, Francis I appointed him his valet de chambre. Johannes Kleberger thus became one of the ten wealthiest and most influential inhabitants of Lyon. He gave enormous financial donations to the city, as in 1531 when, during the plague epidemic, he gave 500 livres to benefit the orphans of the plague victims. He was called le bon Allemand (Kellenberg, 1977; Rabel, 1990), and a monument was erected in his honor, of which a replica still exists today. Upon his death, along with the bequests to the hospitals in Bern and Geneva, he left the French city huge sums to assign to charities. Yet the portrait Durer delivers shows a very hard-looking man: a hardness underscored from the classical type of pose and from the indication of the coldness of the stone. Behind the inscription lies the cabbalistic sign of the sol in corde leonis, which is the conjunction of the brightest star of Leo, with the sun that was taken from the De occulta philosophia of Agrippa von Nettesheim (1510). He, too, was a German whom Kleberger likely met in Lyon, and according to whom the men born under this sign were destined for greatness. The symbol also represents an amulet against melancholy. Even the symbol of Leo surrounded by stars, depicted in the upper-left corner of the painting, would have a divinatory significance and again, according to Agrippa von Nettesheim (Rebel, 1990), it would represent the particularly fortunate position of the person portrayed. In the lower corners, to the left and right, are the redende Wappen (figurative coats of arms) of the Kleberger family.



The Four Holy Men
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

The Four Apostles

The Apostles John and Peter

The Apostle Paul
and Mark the Evangelist

Durer did not paint these four paintings on commission. It was he who wanted to donate them to Nuremberg, his native city. The city accepted and reciprocated by giving the sum of 100 florins. The four monumental figures remained in the municipality of Nuremberg until 1627, when, following threats of repression, they had to be sold to the elector of Bavaria, Maximilian I, a great enthusiast of Durer's work.
On that occasion, however, the prince had the inscriptions, at the bottom of the paintings, sawed off and sent back to Nuremberg, as they were considered heretical and injurious to his position as the sovereign Catholic. The city handed them over to the museum in Munich in 1922, where they were rejoined with their respective panels.
As it was common in many cities in Italy to bestow the town hall with a work of art that would serve as an example of buon governo, so did Durer want to provide his native city with a work of his that had been purposefully made to this end. The Four Apostles, witnesses to the faith, were to simultaneously function as a warning. For this, their figures had inscriptions affixed that the calligrapher Johann Neudorfer had added to the bottom of the panels, which reproduced biblical passages from the recent translation of Martin Luther (1522). The first line of both are references to the Apocalypse of Saint John (22:18 ff.), but the essential content has another origin: it is a reproach to the secular powers not to conceal the divine word in seductive human interpretation. Besides, it reads that everyone should take the warning of the "four excellent men" to heart: almost a formulation of the symbolic program represented in the choice of the four figures, of three apostles and an evangelist, Mark, an unusual choice that Durer does not explain or illustrate.
The Four Apostles undoubtedly represents his personal religious credo through the inscriptions. His position is to be on guard against the "false prophets." This becomes understandable if one considers the political-religious background of that time and the violence and passion of the religious upheavals, which favored the onset of false doctrines.
Durer knew that his support of the Lutheran movement, which surely came out from the words of the inscriptions, would have been shared by important and influential citizens; in fact, different from the majority of Nuremberg sovereignties, firmly embraced Protestantism in toto. In his Bulletin on the Artists and Artisans in Nuremberg of 1546, the aforementioned Neudorfer writes that Durer wanted to represent a sanguine, a choleric, a phlegmatic, and a melancholic. Panofsky (1943) believed that it was possible to subdivide them according to the following attributions: John would be the sanguine, Peter the phlegmatic, Paul the melancholic, and Marco the choleric. In addition, each temperament would correspond to one of the four ages of life. Preparatory drawings exist for the heads in Berlin and Bayonne (W 870-72).

The Four Holy Men ( Peter)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich



The Four Holy Men (Mark)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich



The Four Holy Men (Paul)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich





Madonna and Child
(Madonna with the Pear)

In the beginning of the eighteenth century, this painting was in the guardaroba (cloakroom) of the Pitti Palace. From there, it moved to the Villa di Poggio a Caiano, It has been at the Uffizi since 1773.
Durer made the pear smaller as the painting process progressed. Despite its small scale, the Madonna is depicted in a half-bust; the child is seated, though it is unclear on what—maybe the mother's arm. The artist leaves that up to the spectator.
According to Anzelewsky (1991), it is the last and most stylistically mature version of the Madonna's image painted by Durer. The image of Munich from 1516, though not revealing any emotional rapport between the mother and child, like this one, is nevertheless fascinating for its iconic aspect; but the Florentine image lacks intimate and formal tension.
Here, too, the Madonna is frontally depicted, holding a pear in her left hand— of which we see only the fingers. And here again, the long blond hair falls on her shoulders almost symmetrically to the right and left. The necklines of the white blouse and red dress are also nearly symmetrical, contrasting with her softly curved facial features. Her downward gaze shows meditation and pensiveness. Even the gaze of the clothed child is absorbed and immobile. The right hand holds on to the edge of the mother's cloak, and the left hand's fingers close around a nondescript flower. Evidently, this devotional image also was intended for meditation on the mother of God and on the Passion and Redemption of Christ, even if until now it has not been possible to discern any connection between the pear and the flower.

Madonna and Child with the Pear
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence


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