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An International Reputation
It was only around 1500, amidst the high Renaissance in Italy, that artists began to have an international reputation. Michelangelo, because of his Sistine Chapel ceiling and the pilgrimages of travellers to Rome, Leonardo because of his own travels, and perhaps most interestingly, and surprisingly, to that list we have to add the German painter and engraver, Albrecht Dürer. Although Dürer is known to have done a little travelling too, the more than adequate painter became "famous", so to speak, not because of his brushwork, but due to the fact that he was able to actually "publish" his own work, in the form of woodcuts or engravings (intaglio). Whereas other painters could produce only one work, Dürer reproduced hundreds, which did the travelling for him to all parts of Europe, and took his reputation with them.

Born in 1471 in northern Germany, Dürer's early training involved the carving of wooden panels to be used in the printing process, which flourished especially in northern Europe at this time. His work always reflected deep piety, and in fact, if his painted self-portrait is any indication, he seems to have seen himself as somewhat Christ-like. Painted around 1500, it is an intense, highly detailed, extremely realistic frontal depiction usually reserved for portraits of Christ at the time. Although he'd dabbled in etched prints somewhat, after a trip to Venice and exposure to Venetian painting between 1505 and 1507, he returned to Germany where he did some of his most impressive engravings.

Working with only the crudest of tools, and in reverse on a copper plate, Dürer created some of the most tightly drawn etched prints ever done before or since. His work, like the 1513 print, The Knight, Death and the Devil is a tour-de-force of engraving skill as impressive in its own way as anything Michelangelo did in fresco or marble, or Leonardo did in oils. And most of all, being only about 7 1/2 by 9 1/2 inches in size, and printed on paper, (and in some quantity) it was portable, in a way neither of the other masters could begin to match. One could even go so far as to say that Dürer was our first mass media artist.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
5 January 1998


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