Nativity ("Weihnacht") B2, 1504, Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin. Copperplate engraving on laid paper.
"This engraving appears as a demonstrative application of the laws of perspective, acquired by the artist shortly before... Following a tradition inaugurated by Flemish painters in their depictions of Christ's childhood, the ruins refer to the Old Testament, while the plants grafted onto them symbolize the New Testament." (F Thürlemann, exhibition catalog Une image peut en cacher une autre, Grand Palais Paris 2009). Cf. Musée du Louvre.
Our print is a late edition of the 1504 engraving and must be dated to the 17th century. Albrecht Dürer's work was so important that proofs of his engravings were printed until the 19th century.
Dimensions: 0.184 x 0.120 m squared, 0.36 x 0.295 m overall
It would be an illusion to sum up Dürer's life in just a few lines, such is his immense legacy - punctuated by countless masterpieces drawn, painted or engraved. Here, we will attempt to summarize a few essential elements.
Born in Nuremberg in 1471, his father introduced him to the art of goldsmithing from an early age. This apprenticeship gave him a sense of precision, solid plastic forms and a real taste for ornamentation. Chasing chalices, tableware and jewelry gave him the rudiments of copper engraving. And it was in this multi-faceted art form that he envisaged his career, probably inspired by the work of Martin Schongauer. He joined Michael Wolgemut's workshop in 1486, where he also discovered the pleasure of painting. In 1490, he began his apprenticeship in Northern Europe, reaching Colmar where his mentor lived, but Schongauer died shortly before. He nevertheless perfected his art with Schongauer's brothers. He then spent time in Basel, followed by Strasbourg, before returning to Nuremberg in the spring of 1494. This was followed by trips to Italy and to Venice, then part of the Holy Roman Empire, where he was introduced to the art of the Quattrocento, inspired by Antiquity. A fourth trip took him to Flanders. Throughout Europe, his art was now recognized and met with triumph.
Although considered a great painter, Dürer was almost exclusively regarded as a master of line. It was his engraving work that brought him universal renown, his name evoking masterly graphic works: the great woodcut suites (the Apocalypse, the Life of the Virgin or the Passion) and the extraordinary copper engravings (Death and the Devil, Saint Jerome in his Cell or Melancholy). At a time when artists still largely confined themselves to copying models (exempla), Dürer's art, so rich in invention, was destined to exert an extraordinary hold on his contemporaries and on the artists of subsequent centuries. As soon as they appeared, Dürer's engravings spread throughout Europe. The master himself sold or gave them away, his wife took them to the Frankfurt fair, his mother sold them at the Nuremberg market, and numerous peddlers dispersed them.
Such was his success that, during his lifetime, copyists and counterfeiters began snapping up his engravings. In 1678, the Bolognese art critic Malvasia wrote of imitators and counterfeiters, foremost among them Marcantonio Raimondi: "All these famous artists, who seem so original to us, would be nothing but beggars if, one day, they were forced to restore to Dürer what they have stolen from him". More than an artist, Albrecht Dürer thought about art and published numerous theoretical treatises. On April 6, 1528, the prolific genius died in his home town.
- KNAPPE Karl-Adolf, DÜRER engravings complete works, Art et Métiers Graphiques 1964
- PANOFSKY Erwin, The Life and Art of Albrecht DÜRER, Princeton University Press 1971
- METZGER Christof, Albrecht DÜRER, catalog for the 2020 exhibition at the Albertina, Vienna, Prestel 2019
- Collectif, Catalogue of the 2022 exhibition at the Musée de Condé, Château de Chantilly, Albrecht DÜRER Gravure et Renaissance, In Fine 2022