Albrecht Durer – Observing Nature

As a young man in Germany Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was apprenticed to Michael Wolgemut chief illustrator of the Nuremberg Chronicle. He traveled widely and his work as a painter only exceeded by his ability to engrave on metal. During the first decade of the sixteenth century he was depicting plants in all his art works with a new note of botanical accuracy. This is was at a time when the plant world was introduced to exotic oriental bulbs and the science of botany broke away from medicine, to which it had long been subordinate. His work entitled The Great Piece of Turf depicts the plants exactly as he saw them growing in the field, and his observations would have a lasting influence on the rendering of flowers in art well into the seventeenth century.

Only ten of Durer’s studies of plants survive, among them is this simple beautifully rendered columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris). Durer gained the reputation of being the artist of ‘everyman’ illustrating books for numerous printing presses and selling individual prints on sheets of paper, which even the average person could purchase. His theoretical treatises on perspective, architecture and human anatomy as well as his natural history studies rivaled those of the best scholars of Europe.

During Albrech Durer’s lifetime modern scientific methods of perfecting the examination of the physical world led to inventions – from telescopes to microscopes – that would improve and enhance man’s sight. He affirmed his creator by crafting his own image in the likeness of Christ, the outward vanity of a social man in the ascendancy one which has always been controversial.

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