Albrecht Dürer’s Muzzle of an Ox Seen from the Front, 1501-05

It is hard to grasp that around 1500, when Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian were all at the height of their powers, Albrecht Dürer was Europe’s most famous artist.

The historian Theodore Rabb has remarked that, while in our era Old Masters are known for universally recognisable paintings or sculptures—Botticelli for The Birth of Venus, Leonardo for The Last Supper and Mona Lisa, Michelangelo for David and the Sistine Chapel ceiling—Dürer’s fame rests on his prints and drawings.

The medium is the message: Dürer’s media account for the renown he enjoyed in his lifetime (and afterwards).

His drawings and the prints ensured that his work was familiar to many viewers all over the continent, while the works of the Italian masters were known only through a limited number of prints and to those few who went to see them in person.

What is more, his prints had, unlike other reproductions, the Benjaminian “aura” of original works of art.


The Art Newspaper