Van Gogh •
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Albrecht Dürer, the most gifted painter and engraver of the German Renaissance and Reformation period, was born in Nuremberg. He
learned the techniques of engraving in the workshop of his father, a goldsmith, before being apprenticed in 1486 to the realistic Flemish
painter Michael Wolgemuth. Dürer's earliest recognized work was a self-portrait painted at the age of thirteen. It was the first in a
series that continued throughout his life, indicative of an introspective self-analysis. By 1493, after a trip to Colmar where he admired
the paintings and engravings of Martin Schongauer, his self-portraits indicated a questioning and deeply thoughtful spirit. Dürer went
to Venice for the first time in 1494 bringing back with him copies of Mantegna's works and many watercolor and pencil sketches of nature.
The Renaissance ideal of the complete man - the artist as scholar and gentleman - appealed to Dürer who had begun his lifelong search for new ideas, theories, and techniques, and for the solution to the problem of combining realism with abstract concepts. Upon his return to Nuremberg, where he remained for ten years, he devoted himself largely to the making of woodcuts and engravings, refining the woodcut to a degree hitherto unknown and raising it to the highest form of graphic art. His prints were distributed all over Europe and when he returned to Italy in 1505, he was received with respect and admiration. Dürer worked and studied in Venice and Bologna for two years, then returned to Nuremberg where he remained until 1520 when he made a trip to the Low Countries to study the older Flemish masters.
Dürer's paintings are beautifully composed, masterfully lit, and rhythmically strong. He sought a fusion between the spirit of
the Renaissance and that of the Reformation in serious, moral, and often symbolic subjects. During his later years he devoted
considerable time to writing and illustrating a book on theories of art based on Piero della Francesca's earlier work with
perspective. In his final period, as he became more firmly certain of the truth of the idea of the Reformation, his work grew more
and more austere in manner and subject. "The Four Apostles", called his "testament," was painted in 1526 and this powerfully classical
work seems to reconcile the northern Reformation with Italian classical painting.