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arts

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Dürer, Albrecht (1471-1528)  

Considered one of the greatest graphic artists in history, Dürer elevated printmaking to the level of painting through his unprecedented use of line and value. His works frequently express sexual themes and .

Dürer was born on May 21, 1471 in the Imperial Free City of Nuremberg, the third of his parents' eighteen children. His father was a jeweler and goldsmith. He was educated at the Lateinschule in St. Lorenz and also trained as a goldsmith by his father.

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In 1486, Dürer was apprenticed to the well known Nuremberg artist Michael Wolgemut from whom he learned the fundamentals of painting and printmaking. Dürer possessed an insatiable intellectual curiosity and traveled around Europe to broaden his artistic knowledge.

He toured northern Europe between 1490 and 1494 to acquaint himself with German and Flemish art, and in late 1494 and again between 1505 and 1507 he journeyed to Venice. Before his first trip to Venice, Dürer married Agnes Frey, with whom he had a childless and unhappy relationship.

In Venice Dürer absorbed Renaissance ideas and forms and developed his lifelong concern with the figure and its placement in space. Returning to Nuremberg from his first Venetian trip in 1495, Dürer synthesized German, Flemish, and Italian influences and laid the foundation for the northern Renaissance in his first major print series, the Apocalypse (1498).

For the next several decades Dürer built his reputation with graphic works such as the Large and Small Passion and the Life of the Virgin, which were published in 1511, as well as by accepting painting commissions.

During his final years the artist became preoccupied with theoretical interests and published a book on mathematics for young artists, as well as the first of four books on human proportion. The other three books in the series were published after his death on April 6, 1528 in the city of Nuremberg.

While scholars have noted sexual themes in Dürer's canon, such as Large Horse and Small Horse, both of which date from 1505, none have explored the homoeroticism in his work in any depth.

Two letters, however, reveal that Dürer was aware of male-male sexual attraction and may have had a homosexual relationship. In a letter from Venice to his best friend, Willibald Pirckheimer, Dürer wittily comments that Pirckheimer would find pleasure in the beautiful Venetian soldiers running about. A few months later the Canon Lorenz Beham of Bamberg humorously writes to Pirckheimer that Dürer's "boy" surely does not like his beard. Unfortunately, Dürer and Beham do not comment further or make any other homoerotic remarks in their respective letters.

Although written evidence regarding Dürer's sexual interests is limited to these two letters, Dürer's work substantiates the artist's interest in male-male sexual relations. In the Men's Bath (1497), for instance, Dürer depicts a group of men in a public bath suggestively grouped together and watched over by a male voyeur.

Dürer also treats homosexuality in the Death of Orpheus (1494), which portrays the musician's murder in a woodland by a group of Thracian women. The artist announces Orpheus' crime in a banderole, or scroll bearing an inscription, placed in a tree above the musician's head: "Orpheus, the first ." Dürer may have been influenced by contemporary Italian events that made homosexuality and its punishment popular topics of discussion.

Dürer also eroticizes Christ's last days on earth in his Green Passion series. In the Betrayal of Christ (1503?) from the Green Passion, Dürer portrays Christ and Judas preparing for an intimate kiss; while in Christ Before Caiaphas (1504) from the same series Caiaphas and a soldier gesticulate to the Savior's exaggerated groin. For these scenes Dürer may have found inspiration in other contemporary sexualized images of Christ or may have been motivated by mystical ideas in which a spiritual union with Christ was expressed in physical terms.

In addition to these three images, Dürer also produced other works with a variety of sexual themes and homoerotic content throughout his career, demonstrating that while he may or may not have had a homosexual relationship, he was certainly drawn to the idea of intimate male contact.

Peter R. Griffith

     

 
zoom in
Two works by Albrecht Dürer:
Top: A self-portrait.
Above: The Death of Orpheus.

  
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arts >> Overview:  European Art: Renaissance

The various cultural patterns, especially the conditions of artistic production and the types of subjects and themes represented, provide a great deal of evidence about Renaissance sexuality and art.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Nude Males

Throughout much of history, the nude male figure was virtually the only subject that could be used to articulate homoerotic desire in publicly displayed works of art, as well as those works of art intended for private "consumption."

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Orpheus

Although most artists since the Hellenistic age ignore the homosexual aspect of Orpheus, depicting him instead as the classical pattern of the poet-musician, notable exceptions are Colard Mansion and Albrecht Dürer.

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    Bibliography
   

Hutchison, Jane Campbell. Albrecht Dürer. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Panofsky, Erwin. The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1955.

Rupprich, Hans, ed. Dürer Schriftlicher Nachlass. Berlin: Deutscher Verein für Kunstwissenschaft, 1956.

Strauss, Walter L.. The Complete Drawings of Albrecht Dürer. 6 vols. New York: Abaris Books, 1974.

Strieder, Peter. "Dürer." Dictionary of Art. Jane S. Turner, ed. New York: Grove, 1993. 427-445.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Griffith, Peter R.  
    Entry Title: Dürer, Albrecht  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 14, 2006  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/durer_a.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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