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study of the Greek language had been introduced in England;—arts and commerce were in the ascendant;-the brilliant reign of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain was graced by the discoveries of Columbus ;—and “the last sigh of the Moor” had been breathed by King Boabdil on quitting his palace of the Alhambra.—The mighty Luther had also come upon the stage!
It was during this stirring time that our young artist was upon his travels, and became acquainted with some of the leading spirits of the age. Nor was he long in espousing the principles of the Reformation, along with his friend Wilibald Pirkheimer.
His pencil, however, was not idle. He then laid the foundation of a great reputation as a painter.
Having abode four years in foreign parts, during which time he went over Germany, the Netherlands, and the Venetian States, “ my father," he says, “called me back to himself at Whitsuntide, 1494.”
The next step was one that had a material influence on his future life. It was his marriage. From gratitude, probably, to his father, for having allowed him to become a painter, he seems to have yielded to his father's views on this most important matter. Hans Frey (a mechanist of some note), he says, “bargained with my father while I was abroad to give me his daughter to wife, a young maiden, by name Agnes, and with her two hundred florins."*
The marriage was in 1494, when Albert was twenty-three years of age.
Three years after (1497) he exhibited a painting for the first time in public. It was “the Three Graces,” holding a globe over their heads. It was usual at that time for students to exhibit one of their best works, and we learn that the diploma of Master of Painting was gained by Dürer with more than ordinary honour.
His father, soon after, fell sick, “ in such sort,” he says, “ that no one was able to cure him; and when he saw death plainly before his eyes he gave himself up willingly thereto with great patience, commending my mother to my care, and charging us to live godly.”
The “bargaining" which he had mentioned, seems to have bartered away the happiness of the young artist.
The good Albert had married a shrew.
Whether from this cause or not we won't stop to say, but we find he was soon afoot for foreign parts, and that he was not slow in proceeding to Venice, where he stayed nearly all the following year.f
Albert's letters to his friend Pirkheimer are preserved at Nuremberg. He writes: “I wish you were here; there are so many pleasant com. panions among the Italians, who are the longer the more friendly with me.” He also says : " I have given the painters a good rubbing down; who said that I was good only at engraving, but knew not how to touch colours. Now they say they have never seen finer colours.” He here met with the painter Bellini, then about eighty, the father of the Venetian school, which afterwards produced Giorgoni and Titian. One of Bellini's pictures, a “ Virgin and Child,” produced 40001. in 1819, at Lebrun's sale in Paris. Another, a “ Madonna," which had been carried off from thence by Napoleon to the Louvre, was, after the peace of 1815, restored to the church of St. Zacharias, where it is valued at 80001.
* A florin, or guilder, was worth about 9s. = 901.
† This was in 1505, a year when shillings were first coined in England, and four years before gardening was introduced there from the Netherlands, from whence vegetables had thitherto been imported.
Bellini desired to have one of Dürer's works, and praised him highly. He also asked, as a keepsake, for one of the pencils with which he drew fine lines. Dürer held out a handful, telling him to choose one, “ for he could do it with them all.”
While at Venice he painted a full length of “ Adam and Eve" for a German church, and the “ Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew” for St. Mark's. The latter rose so high in public favour that the Emperor Rudolph II. sent orders that it should be bought for him at any price, and be borne on poles by strong men on foot (instead of the ordinary mode of carriage) from Venice to Prague, where it is still to be seen.
As respects the “ Adam and Eve," an admirer of Dürer, Gaspar Velius, said (perhaps rather profanely), “ That when an angel saw it he considered that there must have been some mistake, as he did not think he had driven two such good-looking persons out of Paradise."*
While at Venice, at the age of thirty-five, he began to learn to dance, that he might keep up with the customs of the place—viz. to dance, fence, and sing; but after two lessons, which cost a ducat,” he adds, “ he could make nothiug of it.”
His letters from Venice are written with great cheerfulness, except when he touches upon his return. There appears no mention of any letters from his wife; but both she and his mother seem to have been especially cared for by himself.
He went to Bologna “ to learn some secrets in perspective," and there met Raffaelle, with whom he had already corresponded, and who esteemed him highly. They exchanged portraits, and subsequently prints and drawings. While here he was invited to Mantua by Andrea Montegna, who from a shepherd's boy had become a great painter and engraver, but who died before Dürer arrived.
From Bologna he writes: “I will come by the first convoy. Oh, how I shall freeze when away from the sun. Here I am my own master. At home I am a schamaroyer;'” literally a parasite, but probably a slave.
He returned in 1507, with the reputation of being the best painter of his country.
Vasari, in his “ Lives of Painters” (published in Florence in 1538), says: “If this diligent, industrious, and universal man had been a native of Tuscany, and if he could have studied at Rome, he would have been the best painter of our country, as he was the most celebrated that Germany had then produced.”
From 1507 to 1520 there are scanty records of his life; but in 1511 he painted what is said to have been his masterpiece, “ The Adoration of the Trinity,” which is in the Belvedere Gallery at Vienna.
His letters to his friend Heller, of Frankfort, are preserved. In one of these he speaks of his wife Agnes as “our mistress of arithmetic." He mentions also the pains he had taken with a picture, “ The Ascension of
*“ Angelus hos cernens miratus dixit, ab horto
Non ità formosos vos ego depuleram.”
the Virgin," having gone over it five or six times with good ultramarine ; and “after it was quite finished, he had painted it over yet again twice that it might keep long." He believes, with care and being kept without holy water being cast upon it, it would keep five hundred years. The holy water was mixed with salt, which was corrosive.
In the Manchester Exhibition there were three of his paintings-one, a portrait of his father (painted in 1497, when he was twenty-six, shortly before his father's death), was lent by her Majesty. It had more fresh. ness of colouring than many a modern picture.
In 1520—the year in which Raffaelle died, as well as that of the celebrated meeting between Henry VIII. and Francis I., in Flanders, called the Field of the Cloth of Gold-Dürer again set out on his travels. This time he was accompanied by his wife and her maid, or humble friend, Susanna.
They visited Frankfort, Mentz, Audernach, Bonn, and Cologne (at the latter place he gave his cousin Nicholas his black-lined coat bor. dered with velvet), and thence to Antwerp. The latter city was then in such a state of prosperity, that more business is said to have been done there in a month than at Venice in the height of her prosperity in two years. The Scheldt was pretty much what the Thames, comparatively speaking, is now, and Autwerp was at once a Manchester and Liverpool combined.
“On St. Oswald's day," he says, “the painters invited me to their hall with my wife and her maid, and they had everything in silver vessels, with other costly adornments, and a still more costly dinner. Their wives also were all there ; and as I was led to dinner, there stood the people on both sides as if they were leading in some great lord. .... As I sat there, a messenger from the council of the city, with two servingmen, came and presented me, in the name of the burgomasters of Antwerp, with four jars of wine, and desired therewith to express to me their great respect and good will. I expressed to the same my humble thanks, and made offer of my hearty service. Thereafter came Master Peter, the carpenter of the city, and presented more wine. Then, seeing that we remained long and pleasantly together, even until late in the night, they accompanied me home in high honour with torches.”+
Dürer speaks of having been in the house of Master Quintinesmeaning Quentin Matsyst-the blacksmith painter, then above sixty years of age, and probably at the height of his fame, with whom he also corresponded.
He saw here a triumphal arch which the painters were then making for the coronation of the Emperor Charles V., which Dürer afterwards witnessed at Aix-la-Chapelle.
He also speaks of a great procession to the Church of our Lady, the cathedral at Antwerp, which lasted two days, and is minutely described in his journal. He adds: “ They spare no cost on such things, for they have money enough.”
Being on a short journey through Zealand, he was nearly lost by a storm arising when about to land from a boat off the island of Wal.
* Quarterly Review, vol. cxii. 410.
| This would probably exceed the banquet given to M. Gallait, “the artist of Belgium,” by the artists of England, during “the Exhibition” last year.
Quem Amor de mulcibre fecit Apellem."
cheren-the rope broke, and they were carried out to sea. He spoke to the master that “ he should keep a good heart and trust in God." Help coming, they got safely ashore.
On Shrove Tuesday, 1521, the goldsmiths gave him and his wife a grand entertainment, and they received from one of the chief magistrates a banquet at night.
At Bruges, * which he calls “a magnificent and beautiful city," and which Robertson, the historian, shows us was “the greatest emporium in all Europe,''t the painters, sixty in number, gave him another banquet, and the bells would doubtless sound the “ carillon” of which Longfellow has sung, and who also says:
In the market-place of Bruges stands the belfry, old and brown,
Thrice consumed and thrice rebuilded, still it watches o'er the town. A like reception and torchlight escort awaited him at Ghent, I where, and at several other places, his keep was paid as well as his travelling expenses from one place to another. These facts are alluded to to show the liberal spirit that commerce had diffused among those flourishing cities.
When at Antwerp he was sent for to Brussels by a celebrated lady of that time, Margaret Duchess-Dowager of Savoy, governess of the Netherlands, aunt of the Emperor Charles V., and who herself negotiated a peace with the mother of Francis I. This was after the latter had been taken prisoner at the battle of Pavia, and when, as Burton, in his " Anatomy of Melancholy," tells us, Francis was “ad mortem fere melancholius," Francis wrote to his mother that “all was lost but honour," and the two kings had nearly arranged to fight a duel to settle the issue between them. The mother and aunt met at Cambray, and being lodged in adjoining houses, between which a communication was opened, they met together, says Robertson, without ceremony or observation, and held daily conferences, to which no person whatever was admitted. And so peace was concluded.
To the Duchess Margaret Dürer presented his engravings of the Passion and the St. Jerome, and soon after received the appointment of imperial court painter, with a continuance of the annuity of one hundred florins he had received from the Emperor Maximilian, then dead. The original grant is in the archives of Nuremberg.
While on this subject, we may mention that it is related by Philip Melancthon,|| who knew him well, that “the Emperor Maximilian wished to sketch something for Dürer, the charcoal broke so often that he threw it impatiently away. Dürer took it up and completed the sketch. Being asked by the emperor why it broke so often with him and not with Dürer, the latter replied, Gracious sire, this is my kingdom ; here I rule, and the charcoal is my sceptre. You have harder duties and another calling.'”
A nobleman also thought himself slighted in being asked by the emperor to hold the ladder to Dürer. Maximilian held it himself, saying,
* “Formosis Burga puellis."
+ Charles V., vol. i. pote 30. I So extensive a city in Charles V.'s reign, that he used to say he could put Paris into his gand (glove).
S Robertson's Charles V., vol. ii. p. 331.
"he could make an artist a nobleman, but could not make a nobleman an artist."
The emperor, it is said, granted him a patent of nobility, but this is hardly credited. It is certain that he was a member of the higher council, and had a coat-of-arms-two open doors--a rebus on his name, signifying “doors."
When at Brussels he had much intercourse with Erasmus, whose portrait he painted twice, and who, he says, was a little man, and presented him with a Spanish mantle.
Being at Antwerp soon after this, he (like many at the time) was greatly alarmed at an incident in the life of Luther, and which is well known. It was that when returning from the Diet at Worms, he was seized on passing through a wood, and carried off by armed men to the castle of Wartburg (which he called his Patmos). The arrest was through the friendly care of the Elector Frederick of Saxony, to guard him from treacherous foes. Dürer did not know this for some time, and in his journal the capture is bewailed in the most pathetic terms. He sent an appeal to Erasmus “ to ride forth as a Christian knight against this unjust tyranny; to gain the truth or attain the martyr's crown, being already an aged man.” Erasmus outlived Dürer, but was more politic than belligerent in his espousal of the principles of the Reformation.
While at Antwerp, in 1521, there occurs a sad passage in his journal. He says: “ I was here overcome by a strange sickness, of which I have never heard from any men, and this sickness I have yet.”
It was no other than consumption, and seems to have terminated the mortal career of the steadfast and noble-minded. Dürer within seven years from this time.
Notwithstanding that his bodily powers were gradually wasting away, he worked with even greater diligence than before. Besides keeping up his painting and engraving, he commenced as an author in 1525. His first work was “ On Geometry and Mechanics," with directions how to use the rule and compasses, dedicated to Pirkheimer.
The second was “ Some Directions for the Fortifications of Cities, Castles, and Burghs,” dedicated to Ferdinand King of Hungary and Bohemia.
The third was “On the Proportions of the Human Body,” in four books, a work displaying great knowledge of anatomy.
Of these works he only lived to correct and publish the first. The other three, which he left in manuscript, were afterwards published by Pirkheimer, who adds some interesting remarks, greatly lamenting his early death, and telling of works “which he had still designed to write, valuable to artists and lovers of art, had God granted him a longer life.”
Of these works splendid copies are in the library of the British Museum.
In the MSS. department is the Scrap-book of Dürer, along with the materials for a work called “Onla 8dao kalea," on the use of arms, with “A Treatise on Fencing and the Broadsword,” also two hundred of his original sketches (many of which were the bequest of Nollekins the sculptor), and thirty-seven of the original blocks of his engraving of “ The Passion."