Dürer, Albrecht: Later Life and Work

After 1500 Dürer became more interested in art theory, and his engravings reveal a meticulousness of craftsmanship, with a great richness of detail. Two woodcut cycles of the Passion of Christ and a Life of the Virgin appeared in the first decade of the 16th cent. Dürer made a second trip to Italy in 1505, staying in Venice for nearly two years. His sensitive perception of the natural world is shown in a number of drawings and watercolors of plants and animals and in a remarkable series of Alpine landscapes executed in the course of his journey to Italy.

A friend of some of the leading contemporary humanists, Dürer expressed his humanistic inclinations in such engravings as Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513), St. Jerome in his Cell, and Melencolia I (both: 1514). The artist's investigation of the ideal proportions of the human body culminated in the Fall of Man (1514). For the Emperor Maximilian I, Dürer was the designer of more decorative projects, including a mammoth woodcut known as the Triumphal Arch, a Triumphal Procession, and a small prayer book. As a theoretician, Dürer composed a treatise on human proportions, a work on applied geometry, and a treatise on fortifications.

Converted (c.1519) to the cause of Protestantism, he reflected the doctrines of Luther in some of his later works, such as a woodcut of the Last Supper (1523) and drawings of saints for an unexecuted altarpiece. In 1520 Dürer went to the Netherlands, where he was received as a recognized master—the first German artist to achieve substantial renown beyond the borders of his native country. In the second decade of the 16th cent. he concentrated more on the translation of lighting and tonal effects into the graphic medium.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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