Friday, April 6, 2018

Carefully in oils

‘I have painted the portrait of a Duke in oils. I have made a very fine and careful portrait in oils of the Treasurer Lorenz Sterk; it was worth 25 fl. I presented it to him and in return he gave me 20 fl. and Susanna 1 fl. trinkgeld. Likewise painted the portrait of Jobst my host very finely and carefully in oils. He has now given me his for his. And his wife have I done again and made her portrait in oils.’ This is from a one-off diary kept by the great German artist Albrecht Dürer - who died all of 460 years ago today - while travelling to the Netherlands to meet Charles V, the new ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. The diary, first published in English in the late 19th century, has been likened to a ledger in which he ‘noted his expenses down to the last farthing’. More interestingly, perhaps, he also noted down income from the sale and barter of his own art works.

Dürer was born in 1471 into large family in Nuremburg. His father was a goldsmith, but his godfather, Anton Koberger, was a printer and publisher, eventually becoming the most successful publisher in Germany, owning 24 printing presses. His most famous publication was the Nuremberg Chronicle, published in 1493 in German and Latin editions, containing 1,800 woodcut illustrations, some of which young Albrecht might have worked on. He learned the basics of goldsmithing and drawing from his father, and showed such a precocious talent in drawing that he was apprenticed to the printmaker Michael Wolgemut from the age of 15.

From 1489, Dürer spent five years travelling around Germany, Switzerland and Italy, a journeyman, working and meeting other artists. In 1494, he married Agnes Frey, the daughter of a wealthy jeweller and musical instrument maker, and, settled in Nuremberg (although he visited Italy again in 1505-1507). He opened his own workshop to produce high quality prints, and was eventually elected a member of the Nuremberg Greater Council. He produced his famous Apocalypse series of woodcuts in 1498. During the next two decades, he produced further series such as Life of the VirginGreat Passion and Little Passion. From around 1512, Emperor Maximilian I, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, became his most important patron, and, later, the source of a pension.

In 1520-21, after Maxmillian’s death, Dürer travelled with his wife to the Netherlands to see Macmillan’s successor, Charles V, petitioning him to continue with the pension. In the latter years of his life, Dürer developed ideas of art theory and mathematics, published several books, Treatise of Measurement for example, and produced some monumental works such as the Four Apostles. He died on 6 April 1528. Further information can be found at the Albrecht Dürer website,
Wikipedia, NNDB, MacTutor, and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

For about one year, while travelling, for the last time in his life, to the Netherlands, Dürer kept a diary. This was first published in an English translation as part of the Literary Remains of Albrecht Dürer by William Martin Conway (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1889). The book - which is freely available at Internet Archive - has 30 chapters, 300 pages, with the diary taking up one chapter and around 30 pages.

The diary chapter starts with this introduction: ‘On the 12th of July 1520 a party of travellers, consisting of Albrecht Dürer, his wife, and her maid-servant, started away from Nürnberg along the Erlangen road. The maid’s name was Susanna and it was probably she who three years later married her master’s former apprentice, Georg Penz the socialist. Dürer carried two little books with him, the contents of both of which have descended to us either in whole or in part. In one of these books he jotted down items of expenditure and occasional miscellaneous records and impressions. The original volume has been lost, but an old copy of it remains in the Bamberg Library. The other was a sketch-book, and many of its leaves may still be seen in the public and private art-collections of Europe. The memorandum book, with its curious mixture of diary and accounts, is one of the most interesting volumes of the kind that have been preserved. It has interested many generations of students and is destined to interest many more. The following is a translation of it.’

And the chapter ends with this postscript: ‘It must be admitted that Dürer was not a man of very contented disposition. But for the ill-health it brought him his Netherlands journey had been most successful. It was doubtless enjoyable. He accomplished the main object for which he set out. His Pension was confirmed by the new Emperor. He added greatly to his fame. He saw the world. He was received everywhere with honour. The town-council of Antwerp, like that of Venice years before, tried to retain him permanently with them. They offered him a salary of 300 Philipsgulden a year with a house and freedom from taxation. But the love of home was strong in him and so he returned to spend his last years in the city of his birth. Henceforward he lived out an honoured, if somewhat premature, old age amongst his own people. His earthly journeys were at an end. There remained for him only the short passage to the tomb where his bones still rest, outside the gates of Nürnberg.’

Nearly 100 years later, in 1971, a handsome edition of the diary was published by Lund Humphries in the UK and the New York Graphic Society in the US: Albrecht Dürer: Diary of his Journey to the Netherlands 1520-1521 Accompanied by the silverpoint sketchbook and paintings and drawings made during his journey. In an introduction, J-A Goris and G Marlier provide the following description and commentary:

‘The Diary which Dürer compiled during the twelve months of his absence from Nuremberg is neither a simple narrative of his impressions on the journey nor a detailed description of the sights he witnessed. It is, in effect, a very precise ledger in which the artist noted his expenses down to the last farthing: his travelling expenses, the cost of board and lodging, the various purchases he made, the money he lost at gambling or spent at the cabarets and spas. And with the same care he recorded everything that could properly be considered as gains, that is to say the sums derived from the sale of his own paintings, drawings and engravings, in that order of importance as far as his receipts are concerned. Sometimes the artist would barter his works, exchanging a set of his engravings for some objet d’art or other object. Dürer also kept a detailed account of the various gifts he made or received. [. . .]

Besides the purely financial data, Dürer could not avoid making a number of observations on what he had seen in the Netherlands. Thus, he describes at some length the great procession he witnessed in Antwerp; or again, the treasures brought from Mexico that he saw exhibited at the Palace in Brussels. Further on, he relates in somewhat pompous fashion the serious risks he took in Zeeland; and shortly before his return he suddenly interrupts his book-keeping to improvise a pathetic lament on the tragedy of Luther and Christianity. The Diary of his journey also tells us in a very direct way much about Durer’s character.’

And here are several extracts, as found in the 1889 edition of Literary Remains of Albrecht Dürer.

12-15 July 1520
’On Thursday after Kilian’s, I, Albrecht Dürer, at my own charges and costs, took myself and my wife (and maid Susanna) away to the Netherlands. And the same day, after passing through Erlangen, we put up for the night at Baiersdorf and spent there 3 pounds less 6 pfennigs.

Next day, Friday, we came to Forchheim and there I paid 22 pf. for the convoy.

Thence I journeyed to Bamberg where I presented the Bishop (Georg III. Schenk von Limburg) with a Madonna painting, a Life of our Lady, an Apocalypse, and a florin’s worth of engravings. He invited me as his guest, gave me a Toll-pass and three letters of introduction and paid my bill at the Inn, where I had spent about a florin.

I paid 6 florins in gold to the boatman who took me from Bamberg to Frankfurt.

Master Lukas Benedict and Hans the painter sent me wine.

4 pf. for bread and 13 pf. as leaving gifts.

Then I travelled from Bamberg to Eltman and I showed my pass and they let me go toll-free. Thence we passed by Zeil. I spent in the meantime 21 pf. Next I came to Hassfurt and presented my pass and they let me go toll-free.

I paid 1 fl. into the Bishop of Bamberg’s Chancery.

Next I came to Theres to the (Benedictine) monastery, and I showed my pass and they also let me go on. Then we journeyed to Unter-Euerheim where I stayed the night and spent 1 pf.

From thence we travelled to Mainberg and I presented my pass and they let me go toll-free.

We came next to Schweinfurt, where Doctor (Jorg) Rebart invited me, and he gave us wine in the boat. They let me also pass toll-free. A roast fowl 10 pf.; 18 pf. in the kitchen and for the child.

Then we travelled to Volkach and I showed my pass and journeyed on, and we came to Schwarzach and there we stopped the night and I spent 22 pf.’

19 August 1520
‘On the Sunday after our dear Lady’s Assumption I saw the great 19 Aug. Procession from the Church of our Lady at Antwerp, when the whole town of every craft and rank was assembled, each dressed in his best according to his rank. And all ranks and guilds had their signs, by which they might be known. In the intervals great costly pole-candles were borne, and their long old Frankish trumpets of silver. There were also in the German fashion many pipers and drummers. All the instruments were loudly and noisily blown and beaten.

I saw the Procession pass along the street, the people being arranged in rows, each man some distance from his neighbour, but the rows close one behind another. There were the Goldsmiths, the Painters, the Masons, the Broderers, the Sculptors, the Joiners, the Carpenters, the Sailors, the Fishermen, the Butchers, the Leatherers, the Clothmakers, the Bakers, the Tailors, the Cordwainers -indeed workmen of all kinds, and many craftsmen and dealers who work for their livelihood. Likewise the shopkeepers and merchants and their assistants of all kinds were there. After these came the shooters with guns, bows, and crossbows and the horsemen and foot-soldiers also. Then followed the watch of the Lords Magistrates. Then came a fine troop all in red, nobly and splendidly clad. Before them however went all the religious Orders and the members of some Foundations very devoutly, all in their different robes.

A very large company of widows also took part in this procession. They support themselves with their own hands and observe a special rule. They were all dressed from head to foot in white linen garments, made expressly for the occasion, very sorrowful to see. Among them I saw some very stately persons. Last of all came the Chapter of our Lady’s Church with all their clergy, scholars, and treasurers. Twenty persons bore the image of the Virgin Mary with the Lord Jesus, adorned in the costliest manner, to the honour of the Lord God.

In this Procession very many delightful things were shown, most splendidly got up. Waggons were drawn along with masques upon ships and other structures. Behind them came the company of the Prophets in their order and scenes from the New Testament, such as the Annunciation, the Three Holy Kings riding on great camels and on other rare beasts, very well arranged; also how our Lady fled to Egypt - very devout - and many other things, which for shortness I omit. At the end came a great Dragon which St Margaret and her maidens led by a girdle; she was especially beautiful, behind her came St George with his squire, a very goodly knight in armour. In this host also rode boys and maidens most finely and splendidly dressed in the costumes of many lands, representing various Saints. From beginning to end the Procession lasted more than two hours before it was gone past our house. And so many things were there that I could never write them all in a book, so I let it well alone.’

23 October 1520
‘On the 23rd day of October, King Karl was crowned at Aachen. There I saw all manner of lordly splendour, more magnificent than anything that those who live in our parts have seen - all, as it has been described. I gave Mathes 2 fl. worth of art-wares, and I gave Stephan (Etienne Luillier), one of Lady Margaret’s chamberlains, 3 prints. I bought a cedarwood rosary for 1 fl. 10 white pf. I gave 1 st. to little Hans in the stable, and 1 st. to the child in the house. I lost 2½ st. at play; spent 2 st.; paid the barber 2 st. I have again changed 1 fl. I gave away 7 white pf. in the house at leaving and travelled from Aachen to Jfibers and thence to —. I paid 4 st. for two eyeglasses; played away 2 st. in an embossed silver king (ein Silbem gestempften König). I bought 2 ox-horns for 8 white pf.’

12 May 1521
‘On Sunday after our Lord’s Ascension-day Master Dietrich, the Antwerp glasspainter, invited me and asked many others to meet me; and amongst them especially Alexander the goldsmith, a rich, stately man, and we had a costly feast and they did me great honour. I made the portrait in charcoal of Master Marx, the goldsmith who lives at Bruges. I bought a broad cap for 36 st. I paid Paul Geiger 1 fl. to take my little box to Nürnberg and 4 st. for the letter. I took the portrait of Ambrosius Hochstetter in charcoal and dined with him. I have also eaten with Tomasin at least six times. I bought some wooden dishes and platters for 3 st. I paid the apothecary 12 st. I gave away two copies of the Life of our Lady - the one to the foreign surgeon, the other to Marx’s house-servant. I also paid the Doctor 8 st. I paid 4 st. for cleaning an old cap, lost 4 st. at play. I paid 2 fl. for a new cap, and have exchanged the first cap, because it was clumsy, and added 6 st. more for another.

I have painted the portrait of a Duke in oils. I have made a very fine and careful portrait in oils of the Treasurer Lorenz Sterk; it was worth 25 fl. I presented it to him and in return he gave me 20 fl. and Susanna 1 fl. trinkgeld. Likewise painted the portrait of Jobst my host very finely and carefully in oils. He has now given me his for his. And his wife have I done again and made her portrait in oils.’

The Diary Junction

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