Painter, draftsman, engraver and theorist of German art. Son of the magic goldsmith Albrecht the Elder, he was an apprentice in the paternal workshop from 1483 to 1486; then he studied with Michael Wolgemut, Nuremberg's greatest painter and woodcut. In 1490 Dürer began a long journey in the German lands; in 1492 he stayed in Colmar, then he was in Basel and in Strasbourg (1493) where he met Hans Baldung Grien. Working from time to time in the places where he was staying, Dürer also made a name for himself as a woodcut. In 1494 he returned to Nuremberg (where he married Agnes Frey), and left immediately after for Venice. Settled in his homeland in 1495, he opened a flourishing shop and a year later began the long association with the great elector of Saxony Federico the Wise. In the years 1505-07 he was still in Venice: already famous, especially for his engravings, he was at the center of the refined society of nobles, artists and humanists of the Serenissima. He returned to Nuremberg and was protected by Maximilian I, working especially as a woodcut, until 1519, the year of the emperor's death. In Nuremberg he continued his activity, albeit at a slower pace for the physique, weakened by a serious illness, occupying himself until the death of the publication of his theoretical works.
In the earliest works - the self-portrait with a silver point made just thirteen (1484, Vienna, Albertina), watercolors with Tigli (1489-90, Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen), the Portrait of the father (1490, Florence , Uffizi) and above all the Self-portrait with the flower of Eringio (1493, Paris, Louvre) - those characters of acute psychological penetration and transfigured realism that are constant in his work are already fully realized. Of his first activity as a woodcut, which was always prevalent on that of a painter and of a quality equal or superior, remain from the period of Basel, the St. Gerolamo healing the lion and numerous engravings for the Ritter vom Turn (1493) and the Narrenschiff (1494).
The first trip to Venice (1494-95), with episodes also in Padua and Mantua, was fundamental for the completion of his training, which was enriched by the plastic monumentalism of Mantegna and the classic harmonies of Pollaiolo and Giovanni Bellini. His spirit of Nordic was influenced by the evocative power of myths and classical allegories (pen drawings with the Rape of Europe, Vienna, Albertina, and with the Death of Orpheus, 1494, Hamburg, Kunsthalle). A first example of how Dürer merged two different figurative cultures into a powerful and organic synthesis is in the rich series of watercolors of 1494-97 (the View of Trento, already in Bremen, Kunsthalle, the Sea Crab, Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, the View of Arco, Paris, Louvre, the Alpine Landscape, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, the Tree and Stone Quarry, Milan, Ambrosiana, the Pond in a Forest, London, the British Museum, the Mills on a River, Paris , Bibliothèque Nationale), which herald the cosmic visionarity of the Danubian school.
In 1498 Dürer illustrated the Apocalypse with 15 woodcuts representing one of the greatest masterpieces of German art. Among these tables: St. John before God and the old men, the Four Horsemen, St. Michael. In the same year he was the Self-Portrait with gloves (Madrid, Prado) in which Dürer portrayed himself as a very elegant gentleman in a refined world of mystic measure: in direct reference to the artist's new Renaissance image. The popularity and wide spread that the Apocalypse had also touched the woodcuts made for other religious cycles: the Great Passion (begun 1500, edited 1511, of which the Ecce Homo is remembered), the Little Passion (1509-11), the Life of the Virgin (1500-11, including the famous table with the Rest on the flight into Egypt), in which the purpose of a new interpretation of the Gospel is evident. In these same years Dürer executed numerous altarpieces, creating masterpieces in which the perspective space, the enamel colors, the sense of the divine daily life are the essential characteristics (Altare Paumgartner, 1502-04, Monaco, Alte Pinakothek, with Nativity flanked by S. Giorgio and S. Eustachio, the Adoration of the Magi, Florence, Uffizi, Giobbe e la moglie, Frankfurt, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, the Two Musics, Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum). From the same period are the Lamentation of the Dead Christ (Munich, Alte Pinakothek) and a series of portraits of impressive realism (Oswolt Krel, 1499, Munich, Alte Pinakothek, Tucher, 1499, Weimar, Schlossmuseum, and Kassel, Gemäldegalerie; Self-portrait with fur, effigy as Salvator mundi, 1500, Monaco, Alte Pinakothek). The numerous watercolors of these years are naturalistic studies of refined execution: the Pappagallo (about 1502, Milan, Ambrosiana), the Leprotto (1502, Vienna, Albertina), the Piccola and the Grande zolla, Madonna degli animali (all about 1503 , Vienna, Albertina). The second trip to Venice posed him more specifically coloristic problems, stimulated by the contact with Giorgione and Titian: example are the Rosary Festival (1506, Prague, Národni Galerie), the Venetian lady (1505, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum), the portrait by Donna lombarda and the Madonna del lucherino (both 1506, Berlin, Staatliche Museen). He also turned his attention to the classic Vitruvian nude (engraving with Adam and Eve, 1504), but dissolved from the canonical rigidity, for an ideal of all human beauty, with the life-sized oil tables of Adam and Eve del Prado ( 1507). However, he soon returned to expressing himself with the engraving: Cavaliere, la Morte and il Diavolo (1513), S. Girolamo in his studio (1514), Melencolia I (1514). The altarpieces (Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand, 1508, Adoration of the Holy Trinity, 1511, both in Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) are less effective.
At the service of Massimiliano I Dürer participated in the great decorative enterprises of the emperor, edited by his closest friend, the humanist Willibald Pirckheimer, with whom he elaborated a mixed style of late Gothic and classical elements (xylographs for the Arc de Triomphe and the triumphal procession, 1515-18). Among the portraits and sacred figures of this period, the style flattened and decorative: the Madonna with the Garofano (1516, Monaco, Alte Pinakothek) and the Emperor Maximilian I (1519, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum). A trip to the Netherlands in 1520 was fruitful in meetings with local artists, as Dürer recalls in his travel notes. There are numerous silver-pointed drawings: portraits, from which he later recorded engravings and paintings, and life studies (Erasmus of Rotterdam, circa 1520, Paris, Louvre, the View of the port of Antwerp, 1520, Vienna, Albertina ).