The Talent of a Young German


IT was clear to Albrecht D"urer's father that his 15-year-old son was an artistic genius, so young D"urer was sent to study with the best known of the Nuremberg artists, Michael Wohlgemuth. In addition to being a painter, Wohlgemuth had a large establishment where all the arts were taught and put into practice. D"urer became one of the apprentices who worked round the clock to prepare art for sale. It is a blessing that authentic drawings are in existence today which were done by D"urer as a boy. He did a self-portrait at the age of 13 and others a little later. (They may be seen in West Berlin, in Bremen, and at the British Museum in London.) As an apprentice D"urer quickly learned that great art sometimes comes from the work of many careful craftsmen, not only a few geniuses.

D"urer was fortunate because he didn't need to struggle for recognition. Many artists of that time were not highly paid, but he did well and felt most grateful he didn't have to take on extra jobs, like many of his friends, who worked as clerks, barbers, or in other jobs far removed from the arts. He became highly skilled with the techniques of many types of art, from wood carving to oil painting.

It took the young German a long time to learn all the various forms of art, even though he was so gifted, and his patient nature was valuable. Possibly D"urer was most successful at drawing on blocks for woodcutters or engraving by hand onto copper. The perfection and detail used in his engraving aided D"urer with his drawing, where every form was done with marvelous precision.

In medieval times there were few books. Johannes Gutenberg's printing press had just made its appearance. Students learned much from their teachers simply by word of mouth. They traveled to where their teachers lived, journeying many miles to take classes. The custom was to take a backpack holding notebooks and sketchbooks.

The student's ``hotel'' was often a haystack or maybe he was offered an attic-type room by some generous soul in the town. The church emphasized ``good works,'' so it wasn't too difficult to locate a household eager to welcome a traveler. These traveling students were often helped along with small gifts of money from the generous villagers.

It was not unusual for D"urer and his friends to arrive at a city where a cathedral was being built, or where a coppersmith or painter was at work. They often would work as bricklayers or stonemasons, or possibly spend a few months washing the master artist's brushes, or becoming adept at mixing colors.

Albrecht D"urer was methodical and businesslike and liked writing about his art studies and travels. We are fortunate he left us these travel diaries of his journeys.

D"urer became a great artist, known for his watercolor landscapes, perfect engravings, compositions with figures, and realistic animal studies. The wandering scholar became a genius artist close to his German tradition, but strongly influenced by the Italian Renaissance. He has given to the world a great deal of beauty expressed in many forms, which is treasured down through the ages.

D"urer was fascinated with nature and gave us a most realistic picture of the stag beetle. This is really a clever action picture, for instead of merely drawing a fine rendering of a beetle, D"urer nearly makes him come alive. There is an interesting illusion as the beetle's shadow is shown on the plain ground of the paper, and it appears he is actually crawling. The use of the shadow is an excellent way to suggest movement.

``Stag Beetle'' is done with great care, even to the subtle coloration along the beetle's back. This work is a wonderfully artistic and true to life (scientifically accurate) picture of one of nature's interesting crawling creatures!

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