Albrecht Dürer is widely hailed as one of the greatest German artists. He came from a family of artists and was an accomplished printmaker, draftsman, painter, and theorist of the Renaissance age. Dürer is perhaps best known for revolutionizing the field of printmaking, elevating the medium to an independent art form. His engravings and woodcuts demonstrated not only extreme technical virtuosity but also a sharp intellect and psychological depth that set them apart.
Dürer was born in Nuremberg, which was then one of Europe’s major cultural and commercial centers. At an early age he apprenticed with his father, who was a goldsmith, and a local painter named Michael Wolgemut, who ran a workshop that also produced woodcut illustrations for important publications. During two formative trips to Italy, in 1494–5 and 1505–7, Dürer encountered firsthand many major works of the Italian Renaissance and classical antiquity while also immersing himself in the study of new theoretical writings. He became a leader of the Northern Renaissance, incorporating aesthetic admiration for classical heritage with the new scientific approach to perspective and human anatomy into his work. Dürer’s accomplishments earned him the patronage and friendship of many prominent members of German society. He served as the official court artist to two Holy Roman Emperors, Maximilian I and Charles V, and created portraits of luminaries such as Erasmus. Dürer is also distinguished for his writings, which include the first scientific study of perspective by a Northern European artist and other influential treatises on geometry and the study of proportions of the human body.