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Antiques & Auctions: Early start put Drer on road to lasting success; FINE ART: Attention to detail marked young artist out.


AFTER his apprenticeship had been successfully completed, Albrecht Drer (1471-1528) decided to explore some of Europe before anything else. This was quite normal, indeed it was considered essential that young men see as much of the world as they could before financial and family burdens prohibited a less carefree life.

They often roamed around the countryside with no particular destination in mind, although Drer was more likely to have made for the Netherlands where he could seek other artists starting out and making their way in their early careers.

He was the son of a German goldsmith, and so would have been able to travel in a leisurely fashion and in some comfort, as he was also the godson of Anthony Koberger, a leading German publisher and printer.

It was probably Koberger who had arranged his young godson's apprenticeship with the premier book illustrator and printer in Nuremberg, Michael Wolgemut.

It seems harsh to expect a child to work these hours today, but this young man started his formal training at just 15. But this is, if anything, late for the latter years of the 15th Century when many children were forced to work through sheer necessity.

Also keeping a guiding hand on the fortunes of this young man was Willibald Pirckheimer, the humanist and patrician, who, along with the other three men, were available to assist and encourage Drer throughout most of his life.

At first it would be easy for the father to instruct the child in the mysteries of drawing, using silverpoint.

But this was not the odd scribble in a book, it was a carefully controlled and deliberate training at a tender age that was eventually to produce some quite remarkable results.

This is evident in a remarkable work now to be found in the Albertina in Vienna, and believed to be the earliest self-portrait by Albrecht Drer. It is in silverpoint and dated 1484. He was but 15 years old.

He was obviously precocious and already showed an enviable confidence in working in minute detail with a precision rarely found so early.

Such attention to detail is the mark of a natural goldsmith, but this young man had greater ambitions and, taking advice and instruction from his mentors, he learned how to apply paints through a printer's eyes and how to engrave woodcuts.

So perfect were his early works they have often been regarded more for their technical brilliance than any artistic merit, but Pirckheimer was on hand to encourage Drer to study the new humanism in Italy, as well as searching elsewhere in Europe.

Few have achieved such a broad knowledge so young in the history of art. He then travelled all over Germany, reaching the Upper Rhine to seek the leading painter and engraver of the day, Martin Schongauer.

Alas, by the time Drer arrived in Coman in 1493 Schongauer had just died, so the young man worked for a time illustrating books in Basle and Strasbourg, producing woodcuts for Ship of Fools by Sebastian Brant. Drer returned home in 1494 and married. Although he briefly visited Italy, he settled in Nuremberg, setting up as artist, engraver and woodcutter. But he was always open to new ideas and sought them through travel. He was always feted as a master craftsman and brilliant engraver.

He presented two panels of The Four Apostles (Munich) to his home city in 1526, in which he explained his life's work to be to present the perfect human figure living with his god in harmony.

A deeply religious man, he died content having worked ``if God should give me time'' to achieve full mastery of his art.

Infou Contact Jeffery Muse at Bonhams in Wales on 029 2072 7980


MASTERPIECE: `Christ taking leave of his mother', from `The Life of the Virgin' (Bartsch 92) by Albrecht Drer, an engraving that sold in Bonhams for pounds 1,100
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 6, 2002
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