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Dürer died at Nuremberg, April 8, 1528, at the comparatively early age of fifty-seven.
The grief and lamentation were so great, that Nuremberg was a city of mourning. “The only sound that broke the general silence," says one of his biographers, “ was that of the whispers which ran from mouth to mouth, telling too plainly of what all believed to have been the cause of, or at least hastening, the sad event."
Pirkheimer, writing to a friend, openly declares his own and the general belief on this subject. He says: “ In Albert I have lost one of the best friends I ever had on earth; and what grieves me more than all is, that he died such a wretched death, which, under the will of God, I can ascribe to none other than his wife, who gnawed into his heart, and tormented him in such sort that he went home so much more quickly, for he was worn away to an atomy.” It has been said that her sitting-room was under his studio, and that she was accustomed to give an admonitory knock against the ceiling when she suspected that “ he was not getting forward with his work;” but this is supposed to apply to another artist, who had not the industry of Dürer.
Pirkheimer, in his letter, continues: “She always did as if she would come to starve, though Albert has left her the worth of near 6000 florins." And they had no children. He concludes: “But, however this may be, we must commend the cause to God, who will be gracious and merciful to the good Albert, who like as he lived a pious and upright life, so did he die a Christian and blessed death."
It is proper to give these extracts in the attached friend's own words, for he was a man of great consideration at that time. He was one of the councillors of state to the then Emperors of Germany, where his name is still held in respect as the friend of Dürer and Melancthon.
The senate of Nuremberg accorded to Dürer a public funeral.
It was the first place in Germany that had a burying-ground outside the city walls. Having been formed in 1519, it may be that Dürer had some hand in it, for he was for some time chief magistrate, and was foremost in every improvement. The city fortifications were his work on a new plan. The inscription on his tombstone was :
M.S. AL. DU.
A.D. 1471 ad 1528.
Sandrart, a celebrated painter of that time. He founded the Academy of Arts at Nuremberg, and strove to repair the damage which art had sustained by the Thirty Years' War in Germany.
The artists now take care of the tombstone, and a yearly pilgrimage is made to it by the citizens of Nuremberg on the anniversary of his death.
During the last fifteen years a statue has been erected to his memory at Nuremberg, and no lesst han fourteen medals are said to have been struck to his honour.
He was of a free and generous nature, of great tenderness of heart and urbanity of manner, a stranger to low jealousy, and ever ready to acknowledge merit in others.
In personal appearance he had a fine brow, an aquiline nose, and his long dark-brown hair fell in graceful curls upon his shoulders. Mrs. Jameson refers particularly to the striking appearance of one of his portraits, and its resemblance to some of the ideal heads of our Saviour.
His wife was also handsome : her face appears in several of his heads of the Madonna. We must do her the justice of stating that she left a legacy for the students at Wittenberg.* This is mentioned by Melancthon, and he says he has “informed Luther and others of the good deed.”
There were some celebrated men at Nuremberg in Dürer's time
Martin Behaim, who invented the terrestrial globe, and drew the first
geographical charts ; his original sphere is preserved there ; Hans Sachs, the “Cobbler bard,”+ who wrote six thousand poems and
other works, and which are praised by Schlegel; and Three sculptors, viz. : Veit Stoss ; Peter Vischer, who made the bronze shrine in St. Sebald; and Adam Krafft, who carved an altar canopy at St. Lawrence over the Pix, where the sacred vessels are
kept. The lesson which Dürer's life conveys to us is important. He was a man of toil; that toil, well directed, gained him undying fame.
The number of his works of art is said to have been as many as twelve hundred and fifty-four, chiefly on sacred subjects. Of these, one hundred and seventeen paintings were known to exist in 1819, and more have been made out since. Nor was it in the number of his works that he was famous, but in the attention to minute detail, and the excellence and durability of his colouring.
In Bryan's “ Dictionary of Painters," written about forty years ago, the author says: “Born in the infancy of the art, he carried engraving to a perfection which has since been hardly surpassed. If we merely consider his command of the graver as well as the remarkable neatness and clearness of his stroke, he will appear an artist of extraordinary merit, not only for the time in which he lived, but at any period of the art that has succeeded him. Even after the experience of three centuries, it would, perhaps, be difficult to find a more perfect specimen of executive excellence than the • St. Jerome,' engraved in 1514.” The invention of etching is conceded to him, and a method of printing from woodcuts in two colours.
* The cradle of the Reformation, and the burial-place of Luther and Melancthon.
+ See Longfellow's Lines on Nuremberg.
He was skilled in optics and geometry, was a mechanician and an engineer, and, as a sculptor, there is a work of his in hone stone in the British Museum, bequeathed by Mr. Payne Knight, who bought it at Brussels, about fifty years ago, for 5001. The subject is the birth of St. John.
In the Manchester Exhibition there were many striking engravings of his, some of large size. They made a deep impression upon the writer, and caused him to look more into the artist's works than he might otherwise have done, and, perhaps, to trouble the gentle reader with these jottings.
He was the first in Germany who taught the rules of perspective, and the proportions of the human body according to mathematical and ana. tomical principles.
He had many pupils; and Mr. Ottley, in his work “On Engraving," says: “The numerous and flourishing school of wood-engravers, which we find spreading in Germany, and thence to Italy, in the sixteenth century, owes its excellence to Albrecht Dürer.”
His prints and woodcuts, on account of their artistic principles, were purchased by the Italian painters for their improvement. So much were they sought after, that they were extensively counterfeited both at home and abroad.
A Venetian, Marc Antonio Franci, or Raimondi, who afterwards became a celebrated engraver, was so much struck with them, that Mr. Ottley says: “ The example of Dürer, no doubt, contributed to render Raimondi competent, in after time, to the task of engraving the exquisite designs of Raffaelle."
This being so, we may excuse Raimondi for taking exact copies (he made fac-similes with paper soaked in olive-oil), but we can't pardon his having afterwards transferred them to plates, together with a stamp, which was taken for Dürer's well-known monogram.
Dürer, some say, went to Venice to stop this traffic ; but this journey is not authenticated. He probably exercised the court influence he possessed in Germany to induce the senate of Venice to interfere in the matter, which they did, though Dürer, it is said, interceded to prevent any imprisonment being inflicted.
While this was going on abroad, there were Flemish and other artists at Nuremberg who openly sold counterfeit copies of his engravings, and a magistrate's order to prohibit this trade is preserved among the archives of Nuremberg, dated 1508.
In spite of all this, it was from his engravings that he chiefly profited. The prices obtained for his pictures were hardly remunerative, so much labour was bestowed upon them.
Engravers in general are the translators of other men's ideas, but Dürer designed and engraved his own compositions. Upon this Mr. Jackson, in his work “On Engraving,” edited by Chatto, in 1838, says: “Setting aside his merits as a painter, I am of opinion that no artist of the present day has produced from his own designs three such engravings as Dürer's * Adam and Eve,'"St. Jerome,' and the subject called · Melancolia.'”
To our eyes there may appear a singularity, and perhaps an awkward. ness about his figures, and a stiffness in the costumes. There is, certainly, no crinoline. The stiffness was owing to the practice then prevalent in Germany of putting wetted paper upon the lay figure instead of cloth. When dry, the folds or creases of the paper acquired a stiff appearance, which was communicated to the picture.
No doubt he lacked the grace and tenderness which Raffaelle at that time was the means of diffusing in Italy; but even Raffaelle's pictures are hardly in accordance with our ideas or taste.
Dürer had not the advantage of Italian culture, and the climate of Germany might not be so inspiring as cloudless Italy.
Mr. Ruskin thinks there is a tone of domesticity in his works, and that scenes of daily life were more in his way than the sublime and grand.
All art critics, however, concede to him a great fertility of invention, wonderful manipulation, and decided excellence in colouring.
Considering what art was at the time he lived, and that he was really a self-made man, we may not be surprised that he should have created the epoch which is ascribed to him, and that he should have been considered almost as an originator of the art of engraving
His friend Melancthon said “his least merit was that of his art."
His chief characteristic, we believe, was reverence to the Creator and admiration of all His works.
This deep religious feeling, and his warm espousal of the principles of the Reformation, caused him to place quotations from the Gospels and Epistles under many of his pictures, with warnings not to swerve from the written word, or listen to false prophets or perverters of the truth. When some of these pictures so inscribed were presented by the city of Nuremberg to the Roman Catholic Elector, Maximilian of Bavaria, in 1627, a singular course was adopted for preserving the pictures from the fanaticism of after times. This was to cut off these inscriptions, and to affix them to copies they had made for the city by Vischer, and which are now in the Landenaer Gallery at Nuremberg.
With such a testimony as Melancthon's, and knowing the enlightening influence which Dürer exercised upon the age in which he lived, we may well regard him as one of the pioneers of civilisation, to whose memoirs and works we may profitably recur, and about whom and his native city we cannot be surprised that the poet Longfellow should have penned the following lines:
In the valley of the Peguitz, where, amid broad meadow lands
Everywhere I see around me rise the wondrous world of art,
THE HORSE AND THE ASS.
FROM A POSTHUMOUS POEM BY HEINE.
By EDGAR A. BOWRING, C.B.
A TRAIN was rushing along one day
With carriages, engine, and tender;
Like a dashing old offender.
A grey horse, at the sound of the whistle,
Demurely chewing a thistle.
At the train; then strangely quivering
“The sight has set me a-shivering!
A chesnut, or black, or bay horse,
And make me (as now) a grey horse !
* Peter Vischer's work.