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The Renaissance began in Italy in the late 1400s. The ideas and styles of Michelangelo, Davinci, Raphael, and other great Italian artists started to spread around Northern Europe in the early 1500s. The Northern Renaissance then lasted until about 1615.
The art of the Northern Renaissance focused very much on daily life and nature rather than on religious subjects.
The artists of this time worked hard to reflect very precise observation. The artists tried to paint exactly what they saw and used a lot of details in their paintings.
Albrecht Dürer was one of the most important Northern Renaissance artists.
He was born in Germany in 1471 and died in 1528 (almost 500 years ago).
He left thousands of watercolors and drawings and is considered the greatest printmaker ever.
He also wrote the first book of mathematics in German and was interested in the application of math to the arts.
The Two Musicians
Dürer’s father was a goldsmith, which is an artisan who works with gold and other precious metals. He taught Albrecht to draw and to work on metal.
At 15, Albrecht became an apprentice to a famous German artist and he learned to carve wood. Later he went to Northern Europe and to Italy to study art.
Albrecht drew this picture of himself
when he was 13 years old.
He used a mirror to see himself.
Do you like it? Why or why not?
Dürer was one of the first artists to paint many self-portraits (pictures of himself). He made at least 12 self-portraits. Here are 3 of his self-portraits at age 22, 26, and 28 years old. Why do you think he wanted to paint himself? What is different or similar in each painting? Can you see the landscape in the background on the second portrait? Dürer was one of the first European artists to introduce landscape in his works.
Because the camera did not exist at that time, portraits were very popular among important people. Sometimes Dürer would be paid to draw a portrait, or sometimes he would send it as a gift to an important person such as the Cardinal of Brandenburg (left) or Frederick the Wise (right).
Dürer was one of the first artists to view animals as a subject for art.
This is one of his most famous watercolor paintings. What are some of the details in this painting?
Can you see the little inscription/symbol at the bottom? That was Dürer’s distinctive monogram.
A Young Hare
This is a sketch Dürer drew to be later painted as part of a panel in a church in Bavaria. The Church burned down in the 1700s, but this famous sketch remains. This is the most replicated (copied) drawing of Dürer’s. What do you notice in this drawing?
By carving wood and engraving copper, Dürer was able to make many (and fairly inexpensive) reproductions of the same picture.
He was able to sell many reproductions of his art and became quickly famous throughout Europe.
His most imaginative and extensive works are his printings. A reason for this is that printing allowed more freedom and experimentation than more public forms of art like painting and sculpture.
The Prodigal Son Amid the Swine
Woodcut is a technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood. The printing parts are level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed.
The areas to show “white” are cut away with a knife, leaving the image to show in “black” at the original surface level. Then the wood would be inked and printed onto paper.
Dürer did lots of big scale woodcuts and depicted mostly religious themes. Observe the different highlights and shadows (this technique is called “chiaroscuro”).
A rhinoceros arrived in Portugal from the Far East in 1514 and was not seen in Europe since the Roman times. Dürer created first a drawing and then a woodcut from a description and sketch of an unknown artist. He never saw the live animal. Does this look like a real rhinoceros? Why or why not? It is possible that this was an extinct rhinoceros or that armor was put on the animal. What do you think?
Engraving, a new technique in the 15th century, consists of a process in which an image is scratched (engraved) onto a metal plate (generally copper), then inked, and printed onto paper.
The main tools used were a type of carver tool called the “burin.”
Dürer engraved many pictures that illustrated stories and symbols of Christianity. Because most people were illiterate (did not know how to read and write), the paintings of the time served as a way to teach people about religion.
The stories reproduced in the pictures had many details. It takes a careful eye to “spy” everything that is in the picture.
Can you spy: a snake eating an apple, a bull, a parrot, Dürer’s name? What else can you see?
Adam and Eve
the Four Winds
What do you think
this print is about?
Can you spy the
4 winds? What
are they doing?
What do you
think the people