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Albert Durer by T. Sturge Moore

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Now let us consider what the world was like in which this virile,
accurate and persevering spirit had grown up. Over and over again, the
story of the New Birth has been told; how it began in France, and met an
untimely fate at the hands of English invaders, then took refuge in
Italy, where it grew to be the wonder of the world; and how the
corruption of the ruling classes and of the Church, with the indignation
and rebellion that this gave rise to, combined to frustrate the promise
of earlier days.

When the Roman Empire gradually became an anarchy of hostile fragments,
every large monastery, every small town, girded itself with walls and
tended to become the germ of a new civilisation. Popes, kings, and great
lords, haunted by reminiscence of the vanished empire, made spasmodic
attempts to subject such centres to their rule and tax them for their
maintenance. In the first times, the Church--the See of Rome--made by
far the most successful attempt to get its supremacy acknowledged, and
had therefore fewer occasions to resort to violence. It was more
respected and more respectable than the other powers which claimed to
rule and tax these immured and isolated communities dotted over Europe;
but as time went on, the Church became less and less beneficent, more
and more tyrannical. Meanwhile kings and emperors, having learned wisdom
by experience, found themselves in a position to take advantage of the
growing bad odour of the Church; and by favouring the civil communities
and creating a stable hierarchy among the class of lords and barons from
which they had emerged, were at last able to face the Church, with its
_protégés,_ the religious communities, on an equal footing.

The religious communities, owing to the vow of celibacy, had become more
and more stagnant, while the civil communities increased in power to
adapt themselves to the age. All that was virile and creative combined
in the towns; all that was inadequate, sterile, useless, coagulated in
the monasteries, which thus became cesspools, and ultimately took on the
character of festering sores by which the civil bodies which had at
first been purged into them were endangered. Luther tells us how there
was a Bishop of Würzburg who used to say when he saw a rogue, "'To the
cloister with you. Thou art useless to God or man.' He meant that in the
cloister were only hogs and gluttons, who did nothing but eat and drink
and sleep, and were of no more profit than as many rats." And the
loathing that another of these sties created in the young Erasmus, and
the difficulty he had to escape from the clutches of its inmates--never
feeling safe till the Pope had intervened--show us that by their wealth
and by the engine of their malice, the confessional (which they had
usurped from the regular clergy), they were as formidable as they were
useless. It became necessary that this antiquated system of social
drainage should be superseded.

In England and Germany it was swept away. In centres like Nuremberg, the
desire for reformation and the horror of false doctrine were grounded in
practical experience of intolerable inconveniences, not in a clear
understanding of the questions at issue. Intellectually, the leaders of
the Reformation had no better foundation than those they opposed: for
them, as for their opponents, the question was not to be solved by an
appeal to evident truths and experience, but to historical documents and
traditions, supposed, to be infallible. For a clear intelligence, there
is nothing to choose between the infallibility of oecumenical councils
or of Popes, and that of the Bible. Both have been in their time the
expression of very worthy and very human sentiments; both are incapable
of rational demonstration.


Scattered over Europe, wherever the free intelligence was waking and had
rubbed her eyes, were men who desired that nuisances should be removed
and reforms operated without schism or violence. To these Erasmus spoke.
His policy was tentative, and did not proceed, like that of other
parties, by declaring that a perfect solution was to hand. Luther's
action divided these honest, upright souls, and would-be children of
light, into three unequal camps.

As a rule the downright, headstrong, and impatient became reformers. The
respectful, cautious and long-suffering, such as More, Warham, and
Adrian IV., clung to the Roman establishment, were martyred for it or
broke their hearts over it. Erasmus and a handful of others remained
true to a tentative policy, and, compared with their contemporaries,
were meek and lowly in heart--became children of light. To them we now
look back wistfully, and wish that they might have been, if not as
numerous as the Churchmen and Beformers, at least a sufficient body to
have made their influence an effective force, with the advantage of more
light and more patience that was really theirs. But, alas! they only
counted as the first dissolvent which set free more corrosive and
detrimental acids. The exhilaration of action and battle was for others;
for them the sad conviction that neither side deserved to be trusted
with a victory. Yet, beyond the world whose chief interest was the
Reformation, we may be sure that such men as Charles V., Michael Angelo,
Rabelais, Montaigne, and all those whom they may be taken to represent,
were in essential agreement with Erasmus. Luther and Machiavelli alone
rejected the Papacy as such: the latter's more stringent intellectual
development led him also to discard every ideal motive or agent of
reform for violent means. He was ready even to regard the passions of
men like Caesar Borgia, tyrants in the fullest sense of the word, as the
engines by which civilisation, learning, art, and manners, might be
maintained. Whereas Luther appealed to the passions of common honest
men, the middle classes in fact. It is easy to let either Luther or
Machiavelli steal away our entire sympathy. On the one hand, no
compromise, not even the slightest, seems possible with criminal
ruffians such as a Julius II. and an Alexander Borgia; on the other
hand, the power swollen by the tide of minor corruption, which such men
ruled by might, did come into the hands of a Leo X., an Adrian IV.; and
though that power was obviously tainted through and through, it might
have been mastered and wielded in the cause of reform. Erasmus hoped for
this. Even Julius II. protected him from the superiors of his convent.
Even Julius II. patronised Michael Angelo and Raphael and everything
that had a definite character in the way of creative power or
scholarship; and could appreciate at least the respect which what he
patronised commanded. He could appreciate the respect commanded by the
austerity and virtue of those who rebelled against him and denounced his
cynical abuse of all his powers, whether natural or official. He liked
to think he had enemies worth beating. Such a ruler is a sore temptation
to a keen intellect. "Everything great is formative," and this Pope was
colossal--a colossal bully and robber if you like--but the good he did
by his patronage was real good, was practical. Michael Angelo and
Raphael could work as splendidly as they desired. Erasmus was helped and
encouraged. Timid honesty is often petty, does nothing, criticises and
finds fault with artists and with learning, runs after them like Sancho
Panza after Don Quixote, is helpless and ridiculous and horribly in the
way. Leo X. was intelligent and well-meaning; wisdom herself might hope
from such a man. Be the throne he is sitting on as monstrous and corrupt
a contrivance as it may, yet it is there, it does give him authority; he
is on it and dominates the world. It is easy to say, "But the period of
the Renascence closed, its glory died away." Suppose Luther had been as
subtle as he was whole-hearted, and had added to his force of character
a delicacy and charm like that of St. Francis; or suppose that Erasmus
instead of his schoolfellow Adrian IV. had become Pope; what a different
tale there might have been to tell! Who will presume to point out the
necessity by which these things were thus and not otherwise? "Regrets
for what 'might have been' are proverbially idle," cries the historian
from whom I have chiefly quoted. I do not recollect the proverb, unless
he refers to "It is no use crying over spilt milk;" but in any case such
regrets are far from being necessarily idle. "What might have been" is
even generally "what ought to have been;" and no study has been or is
likely to be so pregnant for us as the study of the contrast between
"what was" and "what ought to have been," though such studies are
inevitably mingled with regrets. We have every reason to regret that the
Reformation was so hasty and ill-considered, and that the Papacy was as
purblind as it was arrogant. The plant of the Roman Church machinery,
which it had taken centuries to lay down, came into the hands of men who
grossly ignored its function and the conditions of its working. They
used its power partly for the benefit of the human race, by patronising
art and scholarship; but chiefly in self-indulgence. If honest
intelligence had been given control, a man so partially equipped for his
task would not have been goaded into action; but only force, moral or
physical, can act at a disadvantage; light and reason must have the
advantage of dominant position to effect anything immediate. If they are
not on the throne, all they can do is to sow seed, and bewail the
present while looking forward to a better future. Now, most educated men
are for tolerance, and see as Erasmus saw. We see that Savonarola and
Luther were not so right as they thought themselves to be; we see that
what they condemned as arrogancy and corruption is partly excusable--is
in some measure a condition of efficiency in worldly spheres where one
has to employ men already bad. True, the great princes and cardinals of
those days not only connived at corruption and ruled by it, but often
even professed it. Still in every epoch, under all circumstances, the
majority of those who have governed men have more or less cynically
employed means that will not bear the light of day. While these
magnificoes of the Renascence do stand alone, or almost alone, by the
ample generosity of their conception of the objects that power should be
exerted in furtherance of; their outlook on life was more commensurate
with the variety and competence of human nature than perhaps that of any
ruling class has been before or since. As Shakespeare is the amplest of
poets, so were theirs the most fruitful of courts. From the great
Medicis to our own Elizabeth they all partake of a certain grandiose
vitality and variety of intention.


Greatness demands self-assertion; self-assertion is a great virtue even
in a Julius II. There is a vast deal of humbug in the use we make of the
word humility. We talk about Christ's humility, but whose self-assertion
has ever been more unmitigated? "I am the Way, the Truth, and the
Light." "Learn of Me that I am meek and lowly, and ye shall find rest to
your souls." No doubt it is the quality of the self asserted that
justifies in our eyes the assertion; humility then is not opposed to
self-assertion. When Michael Angelo shows that he thinks himself the
greatest artist in the world, he is not necessarily lacking in humility;
nor is Luther, asserting the authority of his conscience against the
Pope and Emperor; nor Dürer, saying to us in those little finely-dressed
portraits with which he signs his pictures, "I am that I am--namely, one
of the handsomest of men and the greatest artist north of the Alps." Or
when Erasmus lets us see that he thinks himself the most learned man
living,--if he is the most learned, so much the better that he should
know this also as well as the rest. The artist and the scholar were
bound to feel gratitude for the corrupt but splendid Church and courts,
which gave them so much both in the way of maintenance and opportunity.
It may be asked, has all the honesty and the not always evident purity
of Protestantism done so much for the world as those dissolute Popes and
Princes? And the artist, judging with a hasty bias perhaps, is likely to
answer no.


For us nowadays the pith of history seems no more to be the lives of
monarchs, or the fighting of battles, or even the deliberations of
councils; these things we have more and more come to regard merely as
tools and engines for the creation of societies, homes, and friends. And
so, though religion and religious machinery dominated the life of those
days, it is not in theological disputes, neither is it in oecumenical
councils and Popes, nor in sermons, reformers, and synods, that we find
the essence of the soul's life. Rather to us, the pictures, the statues,
the books, the furniture, the wardrobes, the letters, and the scandals
that have been left behind, speak to us of those days; for these we
value them. And we are right, the value of the Renaissance lies in these
things, I say "the scandals" of those days; for a part of what comes
under that head was perhaps the manifestation of a morality based on a
wider experience; though its association with obvious vices and its
opposition to the old and stale ideals gave it an illegitimate
character; while the re-establishment of the more part of those ideals
has perpetuated its reproach. There can be no intellectual charity if
the machinery and special sentences of current morality are supposed to
be final or truly adequate. Their tentative and inadequate character,
which every free intelligence recognises, is what endorses the wisdom of
Jesus', saying, "Judge not that ye be not judged." Ordinary honest and
good citizens do not realise how much that is in every way superior to
the gifts of any single one of themselves is yearly sacrificed and
tortured for their preservation as a class. On what agonies of creative
and original minds is the safety of their homes based? These respectable
Molochs who devour both the poor and the exceptionally gifted, and are
so little better for their meal, were during the Renascence for a time
gainsaid and abashed; yet even then their engines, the traditional
secular and ecclesiastic policies, were a foreign encumbrance with which
the human spirit was loaded, and which helped to prevent it from reaping
the full result of its mighty upheaval.

To see things as they are, and above all to value them for what is most
essential in them with regard to the development of our own
characters;--that is, I take it, consciously or unconsciously, the main
effort of the modern spirit. On the world, the flesh, and the devil, we
have put new values; and it was the first assertion of these new values
which caused the Renascence. Fine manners, fine clothes, and varied
social interchange make the world admirable in our eyes, not at all a
bogey to frighten us. Health, frankness, and abundant exercise make the
flesh a pure delight in our eyes; lastly, this new-born spirit has made
"a moral of the devil himself," and so for us he has lost his terror.

Rabelais was right when he laughed the old outworn values down, and
declared that women were in the first place female, men in the first
place male; that the written word should be a self-expression, a
sincerity, not a task or a catalogue or a penance, but, like laughter
and speech, essentially human, making all men brothers, doing away with
artificial barriers and distinctions, making the scholar shake in time
with the toper, and doubling the divine up with the losel; bidding even
the lady hold her sides in company with the harlot. Eating and drinking
were seen to be good in themselves; the eye and the nose and the palate
were not only to be respected but courted; free love was better than
married enmity. No rite, no church, no god, could annihilate these facts
or restrain their influence any more than the sea could be tamed. Dürer
was touched with this spirit; we see it in his fine clothes, in his
collector's rapacity, above all in his letters to his friend
Pirkheimer--a man more typical of that Rabelaisian age than Dürer and
Michael Angelo, who were both of them not only modern men but men
conservative of the best that had been--men in travail for the future,
absorbed by the responsibility of those who create.

Pirkheimer, one year Dürer's senior, was a gross fat man early in life,
enjoying the clinking of goblets, the music of fork and knife, and the
effrontery of obscene jests. A vain man, a soldier and a scholar,
pedantic, irritable, but in earnest; a complimenter of Emperors, a
leader of the reform party, a partisan of Luther's, the friend and
correspondent of Erasmus, the elective brother of Dürer. The man was
typical; his fellows were in all lands. Dürer was surprised to find how
many of them there were at Venice--men who would delight Pirkheimer and
delight in him. "My friend, there are so many Italians here who look
exactly like you I don't know how it happens! ... men of sense and
knowledge, good lute players and pipers, judges of painting, men of much
noble sentiment and honest virtue; and they show me much honour and
friendship." Something of all this was doubtless in Dürer too; but in
him it was refined and harmonised by the sense and serious concern, not
only for the things of to-day, but for those of to-morrow and yesterday;
the sense of solidarity, the passion for permanent effect, eternal
excellence. These things, in men like Pirkheimer, still more in Erasmus,
and even in Rabelais and Montaigne, are not absent; but they are less
stringent, less religious, than they are in a Dürer or a Michael Angelo.




There are several reasons which may possibly have led Dürer to visit
Venice in 1505. The Fondaco dei Tedeschi, or Exchange of the German
Merchants at Venice, had been burned down the winter before, and they
were in haste to complete a new one. Dürer may have received assurance
that the commission to paint the altar-piece for the new chapel would be
his did he desire it. At any rate he seems to have set to work on such a
picture almost as soon as he arrived there. It is strange to think that
Giorgione and Titian probably began to paint the frescoes on the facade
while he was still at work in the chapel, or soon after he left. The
plague broke out in Nuremberg before he came away; but this is not
likely to have been his principal motive for leaving home, as many
richer men, such as his friend Pirkheimer, from whom he borrowed money
for the journey, stayed where they were. Nor do Dürer's letters reveal
any alarm for his friend's, his mother's, his wife's, or his brother's
safety. He took with him six small pictures, and probably a great number
of prints, for Venice was a first-rate market.


The letters which follow are like a glimpse of a distant scene in a
_camera obscura_, and, like life itself, they are full of repetitions
and over-insistence on what is insignificant or of temporary interest.
To-day they call for our patience and forbearance, and it will depend
upon our imaginative activity in what degree they repay them; even as it
depends upon our power of affectionate assimilation in what degree and
kind every common day adds to our real possessions.

I have made my citations as ample as possible, so as to give the reader
a just idea of their character while making them centre as far as
possible round points of special interest.

_To the honourable, wise Master Wilibald Pirkheimer, Burgher of Nürberg,
my kind Master_. VENICE, _January 6, 1506._

I wish you and yours many good, happy New Years. My willing service,
first of all, to you dear Master Pirkheimer! Know that I am in good
health; I pray God far better things than that for you. As to those
pearls and precious stones which you gave me commission to buy, you must
know that I can find nothing good or even worth its price. Everything is
snapped up by the Germans who hang about the Riva. They always want to
get four times the value for anything, for they are the falsest knaves
alive. No one need look for an honest service from any of them. Some
good fellows have warned me to beware of them, they cheat man and beast.
You can buy better things at a lower price at Frankfurt than at Venice.

[Illustration: Wilibald Pirkheimer--Charcoal Drawing, Dumesnil
Collection, Paris _Face p._ 80]

About the books which I was to order for you, the Imhofs have already
seen after them; but if there is anything else you want, let me know and
I will attend to it for you with all zeal. Would to God I could do you a
right good service! gladly would I accomplish it, seeing, as I do, how
much you do for me. And I pray you be patient with my debt, for indeed I
think much oftener of it than you do. When God helps me home I will
honourably repay you with many thanks; for I have a panel to paint for
the Germans for which they are to pay me a hundred and ten Rhenish
florins--it will not cost me as much as five. I shall have scraped it and
laid on the ground and made it ready within eight days; then I shall at
once begin to paint and, if God will, it shall be in its place above the
altar a month after Easter.

* * * * *

VENICE, _February 17_, 1506.

How I wish you were here at Venice! There are so many nice men among the
Italians who seek my company more and more every day--which is very
pleasing to one--men of sense and knowledge, good lute-players and
pipers, judges of painting, men of much noble sentiment and 'honest
virtue, and they show me much honour and friendship. On the other hand
there are also amongst them some of the most false, lying, thievish
rascals; I should never have believed that such were living in the
world. If one did not know them, one would think them the nicest men the
earth could show. For my own part I cannot help laughing at them
whenever they talk to me. They know that their knavery is no secret but
they don't mind.

Amongst the Italians I have many good friends who warn me not to eat and
drink with their painters. Many of them are my enemies and they copy my
work in the churches and wherever they can find it; and then they revile
it and say that the style is not _antique_ and so not good. But Giovanni
Bellini has highly praised me before many nobles. He wanted to have
something of mine, and himself came to me and asked me to paint him
something and he would pay well for it. And all men tell me what an
upright man he is, so that I am really friendly with him. He is very
old, but is still the best painter of them all. And that which so well
pleased me eleven years ago pleases me no longer, if I had not seen it
for myself I should not have believed any one who told me. You must know
too that there are many better painters here than Master Jacob (Jacopo
de' Barbari) is abroad (_wider darvsen Meister J._), yet Anton Kolb
would swear an oath that no better painter lives than Jacob. Others
sneer at him, saying if he were good he would stay here, and so forth.

I have only to-day begun to sketch in my picture, for my hands were so
scabby (_grindig_) that I could do no work with them, but I have got
them cured.

Now be lenient with me and don't get in a passion so easily, but be
gentle like me. I don't know why you will not learn from me. My friend!
I should like to know if any one of your loves is dead--that one close
by the water for instance, or the one called [Illustration] or
[Illustration] or a [Illustration] so that you might supply her place by

VENICE, February 28, 1506.

I wish you had occasion to come here, I know you would not find time
hang on your hands, for there are so many nice men in this country,
right good artists. I have such a throng of Italians about me that at
times I have to shut myself up. The nobles all wish me well, but few of
the painters.

* * * * *

VENICE, _April_ 2, 1506.

The painters here, let me tell you, are very unfriendly to me. They have
summoned me three times before the magistrates, and I have had to pay
four florins to their school. You must also know that I might have
gained a great deal of money if I had not undertaken to paint the German
picture. There is much work in it and I cannot get it quite finished
before Whitsuntide. Yet they only pay me eighty-five ducats for it. Now
you know how much it costs to live, and then I have bought some things
and sent some money away, so that I have not much before me now. But
don't misunderstand me, I am firmly purposed not to go away hence till
God enables me to repay you with thanks and to have a hundred florins
over besides. I should easily earn this if I had not got the German
picture to paint, for all men except the painters wish me well.

Tell my mother to speak to Wolgemut about my brother, and to ask him
whether he can make use of him and give him work till I come, or whether
he can put him with some one else. I should gladly have brought him with
me to Venice, and that would have been useful both to me and him, and he
would have learnt the language, but my mother was afraid that the sky
would fall on him. Pray keep an eye on him yourself, the women are no
use for that. Tell the lad, as you so well can, to be studious and
honest till I come, and not to be a trouble to his mother; if I cannot
arrange everything I will at all events do all that I can. Alone I
certainly should not starve, but to support many is too hard for me, for
no one throws his gold away.

Now I commend myself to you. Tell my mother to be ready to sell at the
Crown-fair (_Heiligthumsfest_). I am arranging for my wife to have come
home by then; I have written to her too about everything. I will not
take any steps about buying the diamond ornament till I get your
next letter.

I don't think I shall be able to come home before next autumn, when what
I earned for the picture, which was to have been ready by Whitsuntide,
will be quite used up in living expenses, purchases, and payments; what,
however, I gain afterwards I hope to save. If you see fit don't speak of
this further, and I will keep putting off my leaving from day to day and
writing as though I was just coming. I am indeed very uncertain what to
do next. Write to me again soon.

Given on Thursday before Palm Sunday in the year 1506. ALBRECHT DÜRER,
Your Servant.

VENICE, _August_ 18, 1506.

_To the first, greatest man in the world. Your servant and slave
Albrecht Dürer sends salutation to his Magnificent master Wilibald_
Pirkheimer. _My truth! I hear gladly and with great satisfaction of your
health and great honours. I wonder how it is possible for a man like you
to stand against_ so many _wisest princes,_ swaggerers _and soldiers; it
must be by some special grace of God. When I read your letter about this
terrible grimace, it gave me a great fright and I thought it was a most
important thing,_[15] but I warrant that you frightened even Schott's
men,[16] you with your fierce look and your holiday hopping step. But it
is very improper for such folk to smear themselves with civet. You want
to become a real silk-tail and you think that, if only you manage to
please the girls, the thing is done. If you were only as taking a fellow
as I am, it would not provoke me so. You have so many loves that merely
to pay each one a visit you would take a month or more before you got
through the list.

For one thing I return you my thanks, namely, for explaining my position
in the best way to my wife; but I know that there is no lack of wisdom
in you. If only you had my meekness you would have all virtues. Thank
you also for all the good you have done me, if only you would not bother
me about the rings! If they don't please you, break their heads off and
pitch them out on to the dunghill as Peter Weisweber says. What do you
mean by setting me to such dirty work? _I_ have become a _gentleman_
at Venice.

I have also heard that you can make lovely rhymes; you would be a find
for our fiddlers here; they fiddle so beautifully that they can't help
weeping over it themselves. Would God our Rechenmeister girl could hear
them, she would cry too. At your bidding I will again lay aside my anger
and bear myself even more bravely than usual.

Now let me commend myself to you; give my willing service to our Prior
for me; tell him to pray God for me that I may be protected, and
especially from the French sickness; I know of nothing that I now dread
more than that, for well nigh every one has got it. Many men are quite
eaten up and die of it.

VENICE, _September_ 8, 1506.

Most learned, approved, wise, knower of many languages, sharp to detect
all encountered lies and quick to recognise plain truth! Honourable
much-regarded Herr Wilibald Pirkheimer. Your humble servant Albrecht
Dürer wishes you all hail, great and worthy honour _in the devil's name,_
so much for the twaddle of which you are so fond. I wager that for
this[17] you would think me too an orator of a hundred parts. A chamber
must have more than four corners which is to contain the gods of memory.
I am not going to cram my head full of them; that I leave to you; for I
believe that however many chambers there might be in the head, you would
have something in each of them. The Margrave would not grant an audience
long enough!--a hundred headings and to each heading, say, a hundred
words, that takes 9 days 7 hours 52 minutes, not counting the sighs
which I have not yet reckoned in. In fact you could not get through the
whole at one go; it would stretch itself out like the speech of some old

I have taken all manner of trouble about the carpets but cannot find any
broad ones; they are all narrow and long. However I still look about
every day for them and so does Anton Kolb.

I have given Bernhard Hirschvogel your greeting and he sent you his
service. He is full of sorrow for the death of his Son, the nicest lad
I ever saw.

I can get none of your foolish featherlets. Oh, if only you were here!
how you would like these fine Italian soldiers! How often I think of
you! Would to God that you and Kunz Kamerer could see them! They have
great scythe-lances with 278 points, if they only touch a man with them
he dies, for they are all poisoned. Hey! I can do it well, I'll be an
Italian soldier. The Venetians as well as the Pope and the King of
France are collecting many men; what will come of it I don't know, but
people ridicule our King very much.

Wish Stephan Paumgartner much happiness from me. I don't wonder at his
having taken a wife. Give my greeting to Borsch, Herr Lorenz, and our
fair friends, as well as to your Rechenmeister girl, and thank that
head-chamber of yours alone for remembering her greeting; tell her she's
a nasty one.


I sent you olive-wood from Venice to Augsburg, where I directed it to be
left, a full ten hundredweight. She says she would not wait for it;
_whence the stink_.

My picture, you must know, says it would give a ducat for you to see it,
it is well painted and beautifully coloured. I have earned much praise
but little profit by it. In the time it took to paint I could easily
have earned 220 ducats, and now I have declined much work, in order that
I may come home. I have stopped the mouths of all the painters who used
to say that I was good at engraving but, as to painting. I did not know
how to handle my colours. Now every one says that better colouring they
have never seen.

My French mantle greets you and my Italian coat also. It strikes me that
there is an odour of gallantry about you; I can scent it out even at
this distance; and they tell me here that when you go a-courting you
pretend not to be more than twenty-five years old--oh, yes! double that
and I'll believe it. My friend, there are so many Italians here who look
exactly like you; I don't know how it happens!

The Doge and the Patriarch have also seen my picture. Herewith let me
commend myself to you as your servant. I must really go to sleep as it
is striking the seventh hour of the night, and I have already written to
the Prior of the Augustines, to my father-in-law, to Mistress Dietrich,
and to my wife, and they are all downright whole sheets full. So I have
had to hurry over this letter, read it according to the sense. You would
doubtless do better if you were writing to a lot of Princes. Many good
nights and days too. Given at Venice on our Lady's day in September.

You need not lend my wife and mother anything; they have got money


VENICE, _September 23_, 1506.

Your letter telling me of the praise that you get to overflowing from
Princes and nobles gave me great delight. You must be altogether altered
to have become so gentle; I shall hardly know you when I meet you again.

You must know that my picture is finished as well as another
_Quadro_[18] the like of which I have never painted before. And as you
are so pleased with yourself, let me tell you that there is no better
Madonna picture in the land than mine; for all the painters praise it,
as the nobles do you. They say that they have never seen a nobler,
more charming painting, and so forth.

* * * * *

But in order to come home as soon as possible, I have, since my picture
was finished, refused work that would have yielded me more than 2000
ducats. This all men know who live about me here.

Bernhard Holzbeck has told me great things of you, though I think he
does so because you have become his brother-in-law. But nothing makes me
more angry than when any one says that you are good-looking; if that
were so I should become really ugly. That could make me mad. I have
found a grey hair on myself, it is the result of so much excitement. And
I fear that while I play such pranks with myself there are still bad
days before me, &c.

My French mantle, my doublet, and my brown coat send you a hearty
greeting, I should be glad to see what great thing your head-piece can
produce that you hold yourself so high.

VENICE, _about October_ 13, 1506.

Knowing that you are aware of my devotion to your service there is no
need for me to write to you about it; but so much the more necessary is
it for me to tell you of the great pleasure it gives me to hear of the
high honour and fame which your manly wisdom and learned skill have
brought you. This is the more to be wondered at, for seldom or never in
a young body can the like be found. It comes to you, however, as to me,
by a special grace of God. How pleased we both are when we fancy
ourselves worth somewhat--I with my painting, and you with your wisdom.
When any one praises us, we hold up our heads and believe him. Yet
perhaps he is only some false flatterer who is scorning us all the time.
So don't credit any one who praises you, for you've no notion how
utterly and entirely unmannerly you are. I can quite see you standing
before the Margrave and speaking so pleasantly--behaving exactly as if
you were flirting with Mistress Rosentaler, cringing as you do. It did
not escape me that, when you wrote your last letter, you were quite full
of amorous thoughts. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, an old fellow
like you pretending to be so good-looking. Flirting pleases you in the
same way that a shaggy old dog likes a game with a kitten. If you were
only as fine and gentle a man as I, I could understand it. If I become
burgomaster I will serve you with the Luginsland.[19] as you do to pious
Zamesser and me. I will have you for once shut up there with the ladies
Rechenmeister, Rosentaler, Gärtner, Schutz, and Pör, and many others
whom for shortness I will not name; they must deal with you.

People enquire more after me than you, for you yourself write that both
girls and honourable wives ask after me--that is a sign of my virtue.
When, however, God helps me home I don't know how I shall any longer
stand you with your great wisdom; but for your virtue and good temper I
am glad, and your dogs will be the better for it, for you will no longer
strike them lame. Now however that you are thought so much of at home,
you won't dare to talk to a poor painter in the street any more; to be
seen with the painter varlet would be a great disgrace for you.

O, dear Herr Pirkheimer, just now while I was writing to you, the alarm
of fire was raised and six houses over by Pietro Venier are burnt, and a
woollen cloth of mine, for which only yesterday I paid eight ducats, is
burnt, so I too am in trouble. There is much excitement here about
the fire.

As to your summons to me to come home soon, I shall come as soon as ever
I can, but I must first gain money for my expenses. I have paid away
about 100 ducats for colours and other things. I have ordered you two
carpets for which I shall pay to-morrow, but I could not get them cheap.
I will pack them in with my linen.

And as to your threat that, unless I come home soon, you will make love
to my wife, don't attempt it--a ponderous fellow like you would be the
death of her.

I must tell you that I set to work to learn dancing and went twice to
the school, for which I had to pay the master a ducat. No one could get
me to go there again. To learn dancing I should have had to pay away all
that I have earned, and at the end I should have known nothing about it.

[Illustration: HANS BURGKMAIR--Black chalk drawing on yellowish prepared
ground. The lights and background in watercolor may possibly have been
added later At Oxford]

In reply to your question when I shall come home, I tell you, so that my
lords may also make their arrangements, that I shall have finished here
in ten days; after that I should like to ride to Bologna to learn the
secrets of the art of perspective, which a man is willing to teach me. I
should stay there eight or ten days and then return to Venice. After
that I shall come with the next messenger. How I shall freeze after this
sun! Here I am a gentleman, at home only a parasite.


Sir Martin Conway writes:

He (Dürer) enjoyed Venice; he liked the Italians; he was oppressed with
orders for work; the climate suited him, and the warm sun was a pleasant
contrast to the snows and frost of a Franconian winter. But Dürer's
German heart was true; its truth was the secret of his success.... The
syren voice of Italy charmed to their destruction most Germans who
listened to it. Brought face to face with the Italian Ideal of Grace,
they one after another abandoned for it the Ideal of Strength peculiarly
their own.

We do not resort to these arguments to approve Holbein or Van Dyck for
their long residence in England. I am not sure how much false sentiment
inspired Thausing when he first praised Dürer in this strain; but I must
confess I suspect it was no little. I incline to think that the best
country for an artist is not always the one he was born in, but often
that one where his art finds the best conditions to foster it. We do not
honour Dürer by supposing that he would have been among that majority of
Dutch and German artists who, weaker than Roger van der Weyden and
Burgkmair, returned from Italy injured and enfeebled; even if he had
passed the greater portion of his life with her syren voice in his ears.

Dürer could not bring himself to undergo for art's sake what Michael
Angelo endured; years of exile from a beloved native city, and, still
worse, years of exile from the most congenial spiritual atmosphere.
Nevertheless, we must remember that the difference of language would
have made life in Venice for Dürer a much more complete exile than life
in Verona was for Dante, or life in Rome for Michael Angelo. So he did
not share the patronage and generous recognition which gave Titian such
a splendid opportunity. He ceased for a time at least to be a gentleman
to become a hanger-on, a parasite once more. At Antwerp he once more was
met by the same generosity and recognition only to refuse again to
accept it as a gift for life and return to his beloved Nuremberg, where
it is true his position continually improved, though it never equalled
what had been offered at Venice and Antwerp.


The tone of some of the pleasantries in these letters may rather
astonish good people who, having accepted the fact that Dürer was a
religious man, have at once given him the tone and address of a meeting
of churchwardens, if they have not conjured up a vision of him in a
frock coat. "Things are what they are," said Bishop Butler, and so are
women; boys will be boys. The distinctive functions of the two sexes
were in those days kept more in view if not more in mind than is the
case to-day. The fashions in dress and in deportment were particularly
frank upon this point, especially for the young. One may allow as much
as is desired for the corruption of manners produced by the civil and
religious mercenaries, soldiers of fortune, and friars. There will
always remain a certain truth and propriety, a certain grace and charm
in those costumes and that deportment, as also in the freedom of jest
which characterises even the most modest of Shakespeare's heroines; and
under the influence of their spell we shall feel that all has not been
gain in the change that has gradually been operated. No doubt virtue is
a victory over nature, and chastity a refinement; but among conquerors
some are easy and good-natured, others tactless, awkward, insulting; and
among the chaste some are fearless and enjoy the freedom which courage
and clear conscience give, others timid and suffer the oppression of
their fears. Even among sinners some make the best of weaknesses and
redeem them a great deal more than half, while others magnify smaller
faults by lack of self-possession till they are an insupportable
nuisance. We may well admit that from the successes of those days, those
who succeed to our delight to-day may glean additional attractions.


We know that Dürer stopped on at Venice into the year 1507, by a note
which he made in a copy of Euclid, now in the library at Wolfenbüttel.
"This book have I bought at Venice for a ducat in the year 1507.
Albrecht Dürer"; and by another stray note we learn the state of his
worldly affairs on his return.

The following is my property, which I have with difficulty acquired by
the labour of my hand, for I have had no opportunity of great gain. I
have moreover suffered much loss by lending what was not repaid me, and
by apprentices who never paid their fees, and one died at Rome whereby I
lost my wares.

In the thirteenth year of my wedlock (Le., 1507-8) I have paid great
debts with what I earned at Venice. I possess fairly good household
furniture, good clothes, chests, some good pewter vessels, good
materials for my work, bedding and cupboards, and good colours worth 100
florins Rhenish.

The wares that Dürer lost in Rome were doubtless chiefly woodcuts and
engravings which his prentice had taken to sell during his
_wanderjahre_, as Dürer himself during his own had very likely sold
prints for Wolgemut. One of the reasons which had taken him to Venice
may have been to summon Marc Antonio before the Signoria, for having
copied not only his engravings, but the monogram with which he signed
them; in any case he obtained a decree defending him against such
artistic forgery. Dürer's most steady resource seems to have been the
sale of prints; it is these that his wife had sold in his absence, and
in the diary of his journey to the Netherlands there is constant mention
of such sales. Nuremberg was very much behind Antwerp or Venice in the
price paid for works of art; and the possibilities of such a market as
Rome had very likely tempted Dürer to trust his prentice with an unusual
quantity of prints. His worldly affairs were neither brilliant nor
secure; yet we shall find him tempted on receiving an important
commission to spend so much in time and material as to make it
impossible for him to realise a profit. We are accustomed to think that
these trials were spared to artists in the past by the munificence of
patrons: but apart from the fact that patrons often paid only with
promises or by granting credit, at Nuremberg there were few magnificent
patrons, and its burghers were in no way so generous or so extravagant
as those of Venice or Antwerp. In fact, Dürer's position was very
similar to that of the modern artist, who finds little and insufficient
patronage, and can make more if he is lucky by the reproduction of his
creations for the great public. But Dürer still had one advantage over
his fellow-sufferers of to-day--that of being his own publisher.
Doubtless portraits were as popular then as nowadays; but if the public
taste had not been prostituted by a seductive commercialism to the
degree that at present obtains, on the other hand, at Nuremberg at
least, the fashion seems to have been very little developed; and most of
Dürer's important portraits seem to have been the result of his sojourns
away from home.


[Footnote 15: Thus far the original is in bad Italian.]

[Footnote 16: The retainers of Konz Schott, a neighbouring baron, at one
time a conspicuous enemy of Nürnberg.]

[Footnote 17: These words are in Italian in the original.]

[Footnote 18: Prof. Thausing suggests that this "other _Quadro_" is the
"Christ among the Doctors" in the Barberini Gallery at Rome--a picture
containing seven life-size half-figures or heads, and dated 1506. The
inscription states it to have been _opus quinque dierum_. At Brunswick
there is an old copy of it. The original studies for the hands are
likewise in existence. In Lorenzo Lotto's Madonna of 1508 in the
Borghese Gallery at Rome, the head of St. Onuphrius is taken from the
model who sat for the front Pharisee on the left in Dürer's picture.]

[Footnote 19: A Nürnberg prison.]




Dürer had hitherto occasionally enjoyed the patronage of the wise
Elector, Frederick of Saxony, for whom he painted the brilliant
_Adoration of the Magi_ in the Uffizi. He was soon to obtain that of
Maximilian, but this genial and eccentric emperor proved a fussy patron,
as quick to change his mind and to interfere with impossible demands and
criticisms, as he was slow to pay and deficient in means for being truly
generous. There are a certain number of letters which give a glimpse of
Dürer's relations with his clients; they show him appealing always to
the judgment of artists against the ignorant buyer, and giving more than
he bargained to give, though thereby he eats up his legitimate profits;
lastly, they show him vowing never again to enter upon work so
unprofitable, but to give all his time to the creation of engravings and
woodcuts. The first is written to Michael Behaim, who died in 1511, and
had commissioned him to make a design for a woodcut of his coat of arms.

DEAR MASTER MICHAEL BEHAIM,--I send you back the coat of arms again.
Pray let it stay as it is. No one could improve it for you, for I made
it artistically and with care. Those who see it and understand such
matters will tell you so. If the leafwork on the helm were tossed up
backward, it would hide the fillet. Your humble servant, ALBRECHT DÜRER.

[Illustration: Photograph J. Lowy--THE ADORATION OF THE TRINITY,
1511--From the painting at Vienna]

The other letters concern the lost _Coronation of the Virgin_, the
centre panel of an altar-piece of which the wings are still at
Frankfurt, of which town Jacob Heller, who commissioned it, was a
burgher. They were to be studio work, and are supposed to be chiefly due
to Dürer's brother Hans. There is, however, one picture extant which
gives an idea of the execution of the missing centre panel, the _Holy
Trinity and All Saints_ at Vienna; which, in spite of his vow never to
do such work again, was commenced shortly after the _Coronation_, and
for a Nuremberg patron. How much he was paid for it is not known; but it
cannot have been a really adequate sum, as towards the end of his life
he writes to the Nuremberg Council, "I have not received from people in
this town work worth five hundred florins, truly a trifling and
ridiculous sum, and not the fifth part of that has been profit." The
preceding picture, referred to in the first letters, is the _Martyrdom
of the Ten Thousand by Sapor II_. All three pictures were signed, like
the _Feast of the Rose Garlands_ by little finely-dressed portraits of
the painter.

NÜRNBERG, _August_ 28, 1507.

I did not want to receive any money in advance on it till I began to
paint it, which, if God will, shall be the next thing after the Prince's
work;[20] for I prefer not to begin too many things at once and then I
do not become wearied. The Prince too will not be kept waiting, as he
would be if I were to paint his and your pictures at the same time, as I
had intended. At all events have confidence in me, for, so far as God
permits, I will yet according to my power make something that not many
men can equal.

Now many good nights to you. Given at Nürnberg on Augustine's day, 1507.


* * * * *

NÜRNBERG, March 19, _1508_.

Dear Herr Jacob Heller. In a fortnight I shall be ready with Duke
Friedrich's work; after that I shall begin yours, and, as my custom is,
I will not paint any other picture till it is finished. I will be sure
carefully to paint the middle panel with my own hand; apart from that,
the outer sides of the wings are already sketched in--they will be in
stone colour; I have also had the ground laid. So much for news.

I wish you could see my gracious Lord's picture; I think it would please
you. I have worked at it straight on for a year and gained very little
by it; for I only get 280 Rhenish gulden for it, and I have spent all
that in the time.

* * * * *

NÜRNBERG, _August 24, 1508_.

Now I commend myself to you. I want you also to know that in all my days
I have never begun any work that pleased me better than this picture of
yours which I am painting. Till I finish it I will not do any other
work; I am only sorry that the winter will so soon come upon me. The
days grow so short that one cannot do much.

I have still one thing to ask you; it is about the _MADONNA_[21] that
you saw at my house; if you know of any one near you who wants a picture
pray offer it to him. If a proper frame was put to it, it would be a
beautiful picture, and you know that it is nicely done. I will let you
have it cheap. I would not take less than fifty florins to paint one
like it. As it stands finished in the house it might be damaged for me,
so I would give you full power to sell it for me cheap for thirty
florins--indeed, rather than that it should not be sold I would even let
it go for twenty-five florins. I have certainly lost much food over it.

* * * * *

Nürnberg, _November_ 4, 1508.

I am justly surprised at what you say in it about my last letter: seeing
that you can accuse me of not holding to my promises to you. From such a
slander each and everyone exempts me, for I bear myself, I trust, so as
to take my stand amongst other straightforward men. Besides I know well
what I have written and promised to you, and you know that in my
cousin's house I refused to promise you to make a good thing, because I
cannot. But to this I did pledge myself, that I would make something for
you that not many men can. Now I have given such exceeding pains to your
picture, that I was led to send you the aforesaid letter. I know that
when the picture is finished all artists will be well pleased with it.
It will not be valued at less than 300 florins. I would not paint
another like it for three times the price agreed, for I neglect myself
for it, suffer loss, and earn anything but thanks from you.

You further reproach me with having promised you that I would paint your
picture with the greatest possible care that ever I could. That I
certainly never said, or if I did I was out of my senses, for in my
whole lifetime I should scarcely finish it. With such extraordinary care
I can hardly finish a face in half a year; now your picture contains
fully 100 faces, not reckoning the drapery and landscape and other
things in it. Besides, who ever heard of making such a work for an
altar-piece? no one could see it. But I think it was thus that I wrote
to you--that I would paint the picture with great or more than ordinary
pains because of the time which you waited for me.

You need not look about for a purchaser for my Madonna, for the Bishop
of Breslau has given me seventy-two florins for it, so I have sold it
well. I commend myself to you. Given at Nürnberg in the year 1508, on
the Sunday after All Saints' Day.


* * * * *

NÜRNBERG, _March_ 21, 1509.

I only care for praise from those who are competent to judge; and if
Martin Hess praises it to you, that may give you the more confidence.
You might also inquire from some of your friends who have seen it; they
will tell you how it is done. And if you do not like the picture when
you see it, I will keep it myself, for I have been begged to sell it and
make you another. But be that far from me! I will right honourably hold
with you to that which I have promised, taking you, as I do, for an
upright man.

* * * * *

NÜRNBERG, _July_ 10, 1509.

As you go on to say that if you had not bargained with me for the
picture you would never do so now, and that I may keep it--I return you
this answer: to retain your friendship, if I had to suffer loss by the
picture, I would have done so, but now since you regret the whole
business and provoke me to keep the picture I will do so, and that
gladly, for I know how to get 100 florins more for it than you would
have given me. In future I would not take 400 florins to paint another
such as this.


NÜRNBERG, _July_ 24, 1509. DEAR HERR HELLER, I have read the letter
which you addressed to me. You write that you did not mean to decline
taking the picture from me. To that I can only say that I don't
understand what you do mean. When you write that if you had not ordered
the picture you would not make the bargain again, and that I may keep it
as long as I like and so on--I can only think that you have repented of
the whole business, so I gave you my answer in my last letter.

But, at Hans Imhof's persuasion, and having regard to the fact that you
ordered the picture of me, and also because I should prefer it to find a
place at Frankfurt rather than anywhere else, I have consented to send
it to you for 100 florins less than it might well have brought me.

I am reckoning that I shall thus render you a pleasing service;
otherwise I know well how I could draw far greater pecuniary advantage
from it, but your friendship is dearer to me than any such trifling sum
of money. I trust however that you would not wish me to suffer loss over
it when you are better off than I. Make therefore your own arrangements
and commands. Given at Nürnberg on Wine-Tuesday before James'.

NÜRNBERG, _August 26_, 1509. First my willing service to you, dear Herr
Jacob Heller. In accordance with your last letter I am sending the
picture well packed and seen to in all needful points. I have handed it
over to Hans Imhof and he has paid me another 100 florins. Yet believe
me, on my honour, I am still out of pocket over it besides losing the
time which I have bestowed upon it. Here in Nürnberg they were ready to
give 300 florins for it, which extra 100 florins would have done very
nicely for me had I not preferred to please and serve you by sending you
the picture. For I value the keeping of your friendship at more than 100
florins. I would also rather have this painting at Frankfurt than
anywhere else in all Germany.

If you think that I have behaved unfairly in not leaving the payment to
your own free-will, you must bear in mind that this would not have
happened if you had not written by Hans Imhof that I might keep the
picture as long as I liked. I should otherwise gladly have left it to
you even if thereby I had suffered a greater loss still. My impression
of you is that, supposing I had promised to make you something for about
ten florins and it cost me twenty, you yourself would not wish me to
lose by it. So pray be content with the fact that I took 100 florins
less from you than I might have got for the picture--for I tell you that
they wanted to take it from me, so to speak, by force.

I have painted it with great care, as you will see, using none but the
best colours I could get. It is painted with good ultramarine under, and
over, and over that again, some five or six times; and then after it was
finished I painted it again twice over so that it may last a long time.
If it is kept clean I know it will remain bright and fresh 500 years,
for it is not done as men are wont to paint. So have it kept clean and
don't let it be touched or sprinkled with holy water. I feel sure it
will not be criticised, or only for the purpose of annoying me; and I
answer for it it will please you well. No one shall ever compel me to
paint a picture again with so much labour. Herr Georg Tausy himself
besought me to paint him a Madonna in a landscape with the same care and
of the same size as this picture, and he would give me 400 florins for
it. That I flatly refused to do, for it would have made a beggar of me.
Of ordinary pictures I will in a year paint a pile which no one would
believe it possible for one man to do in the time. But very careful
nicety does not pay. So henceforth I shall stick to my engraving, and
had I done so before I should to-day have been a richer man by
1000 florins.

I may tell you also that, at my own expense, I have had for the middle
panel a new frame made which has cost me more than six florins. The old
one I have broken off, for the joiner had made it roughly; but I have
not had the other fastened on, for you wished it not to be. It would be
a very good thing to have the rims screwed on so that the picture may
not be shaken.

If anyone wants to see it, let it hang forward two or three finger
breadths, for then the light is good to see it by. And when I come over
to you, say in one, two, or three years' time, if the picture is
properly dry, it must be taken down and I will varnish it over anew with
some excellent varnish, which no one else can make; it will then last
100 years longer than it would before. But don't let anybody else
varnish it, for all other varnishes are yellow, and the picture would be
ruined for you. And if a thing, on which I have spent more than a year's
work, were ruined it would be grief to me. When you have it set up be
present yourself to see that it gets no harm. Deal carefully with it,
for you will hear from your own and from foreign painters how it
is done.

Give my greeting to your painter Martin Hess. My wife asks you for a
_Trinkgeld_, but that is as you please, I screw you no higher, &c. And
now I hold myself commended to you. Read by the sense, for I write in
haste. Given at Nürnberg on Sunday after Bartholomew's, 1509.

NÜRNBERG, _October 12_, 1509.

DEAR HERR JACOB HELLER, I am glad to hear that my picture pleases you,
so that my labour has not been bestowed in vain. I am also happy that
you are content about the payment--and that rightly, for I could have
got 100 florins more for it than you have given me. But I preferred to
let you have it, hoping, as I do, thereby to retain you as my friend
down in your parts.

My wife thanks you very much for the present you have made her; she will
wear it in your honour. My young brother also thanks you for the two
florins _Trinkgeld_ you sent him. And now I too thank you myself for all
the honour &c. In reply to your question how the picture should be
adorned I send you a slight design of what I should do if it were mine,
but you must do what you like. Now, many happy times to you. Given on
Friday before Gall's, 1509. ALBRECHT DÜRER.

Dürer must have commenced the All Saints picture almost immediately
after having finished Heller's _Coronation of the Virgin_. Perhaps he
had practically accepted the commission from Matthsus Landauer before he
wrote to Heller that he would never again undertake a picture with so
much work and labour in it, for he afterwards was as good as his word.
This new work was for the chapel of an almshouse founded by Landauer and
Erasmus Schiltkrot for twelve old men citizens of Nuremberg. The
original frame designed by Dürer is now in the Germanic Museum, though a
copy has replaced the picture. After the completion of the _Trinity and
All Saints_, Dürer apparently carried out his threat and gave up
painting for a dozen years, devoting his energies more especially to a
magnificent series of engravings on copper. He also completed his series
of wood engravings and published them with text, and produced a number
of single cuts, many of them among his very best, like the _Assumption
of the Magdalen_, and the _St. Christopher_, here reproduced.

[Illustration: ST. CHRISTOPHER Woodcut, B. 103]

[Illustration: THE ASSUMPTION OF THE MAGDALEN Woodcut, B. 121]


In 1514 his mother died. He has recounted her death twice over, as he
did that of his father already cited; for the single surviving leaf of
the "other book" happens to contain this also. In the briefer
chronicle he says:

Two years after my Father's death (i.e., 1504) I took my Mother into my
house, for she had nothing more to live upon. So she dwelt with me till
the year 1513, as they reckon it; when, early one Tuesday morning, she
was taken suddenly and deadly ill, and thus she lay a whole year long.
And a whole year after the day she was first taken ill, she received the
holy sacraments and christianly passed away two hours before
nightfall--it was on a Tuesday, the 17th day of May in the year 1514. I
said the prayers for her myself. God Almighty be gracious to her.

The account in the "other book" is more circumstantial:

Now you must know that, in the year 1513, on a Tuesday before Rogation
week, my poor afflicted Mother, whom two years after my Father's death,
as she was quite poor, I took into my house, and after she had lived
nine years with me, was one morning suddenly taken so deadly ill that we
broke into her chamber; otherwise, as she could not open, we had not
been able to come to her. So we carried her into a room downstairs and
she received both sacraments, for every one thought she would die,
because ever since my Father's death she had never been in good health.

Her most frequent habit was to go much to the church. She always
upbraided me well if I did not do right, and she was ever in great
anxiety about my sins and those of my brother. And if I went out or in
her saying was always, "Go in the name of Christ." She constantly gave
us holy admonitions with deep earnestness and she always had great
thought for our souls' health. I cannot enough praise her good works and
the compassion she showed to all, as well as her high character.

This my pious Mother bare and brought up eighteen children; she often
had the plague and many other severe and strange illnesses, and she
suffered great poverty, scorn, contempt, mocking words, terrors, and
great adversities. Yet she bore no malice.

In 1514 (as they reckon it), on a Tuesday--it was the 17th day of
May--two hours before nightfall and more than a year after the
above-mentioned day in which she was taken ill, my Mother, Barbara
Dürer, christianly passed away, with all the sacraments, absolved by
papal power from pain and sin. But she first--gave me her blessing and
wished me the peace of God, exhorting me very beautifully to keep myself
from sin. She asked also to drink S. John's blessing, which she
then did.

She feared Death much, but she said that to come before God she feared
not. Also she died hard, and I marked that she saw something dreadful,
for she asked for the holy-water, although, for a long time, she had not
spoken. Immediately afterwards her eyes closed over. I saw also how
Death smote her two great strokes to the heart, and how she closed mouth
and eyes and departed with pain. I repeated to her the prayers. I felt
so grieved for her that I cannot express it. God be merciful to her.

To speak of God was ever her greatest delight, and gladly she beheld the
honour of God. She was in her sixty-third year when she died and I have
buried her honourably according to my means.

[Illustration: "1514, on Oculi Sunday (March 19). This is Albrecht
Dürer's mother; she was 63 years of age." After her death he added in
ink, "And departed this life in the year 1514 on Tuesday Holy Cross Day
(May 16) at two o'clock in the night" Charcoal-drawing. Royal Print
Room, Berlin]

God, the Lord, grant me that I too may attain a happy end, and that God
with his heavenly host, my Father, Mother, relations, and friends may
come to my death. And may God Almighty give unto us eternal life. Amen.

And in her death she looked much sweeter than when she was still alive.


Such was the home life of this great artist; and from homes presenting
variations on this type proceeded probably all the giants of the
Renaissance, whose work we think so surpasses in effort, in scope, and
in efficiency, all that has been achieved since. This Christianity was
unreformed; it existed side by side with dissolute monasteries and
worldly cynical prelates, surrounded by sordid hucksters and brutal
soldiery. Turn to Erasmus' portrait of Dean Colet, and we see that it
existed in London, among the burghers, even in the household of a Lord
Mayor. We are almost forced on the reflection that nothing that has
succeeded to it has produced men equal to those who sprang immediately
out of it.

However much and however justly the assurance of Christian assertion in
the realm of theory may be condemned, the success of the Christian life,
wherever it has approached a conscientious realisation, stands out among
the multitudinous forms of its corruption; and those who catch sight of
it are almost bound to exclaim in the spirit of Shakespeare's:

"How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world."

I have heard a Royal Academician remark how even the poorest copies and
reproductions of the masterpieces of Greek sculpture retain something of
the charm and dignity of the original: whereas the quality of modern
work is quickly lost in a reduction or even in a cast. I believe this
may be best explained by the fact that the chief research of the Greek
artist was to establish a beautiful proportion between the parts and the
whole; and that fidelity to nature, dexterity of execution, the
symbolism of the given subject, and even the finish of the surfaces,
were always when necessary sacrificed to this. Whereas in modern work,
even when the proportions of the whole are considered, which is rarely
the case, they are almost without exception treated as secondary to one
or more of these other qualities. Is it not possible that Jesus in his
life laid down a proportion, similar to that of Greek masterpieces for
the body, between the efforts and intentions which create the soul and
pour forth its influence?--a proportion which, when it has been once
thoroughly apprehended, may be subtly varied to suit new circumstances,
and produce a similar harmony in spheres of activity with which Jesus
himself had not even a distant connection? We often find that the rudest
copies from copies of his actual life are like the biscuit china Venus
of Milo sold by the Italian pedlar, which still dimly reflects the main
beauties of the marble in the Louvre.


In 1512 Kaiser Maximilian came to Nuremberg, and soon afterward Dürer
began working for him. The employment he found for the greatest artist
north of the Alps was sufficiently ludicrous; and perhaps Dürer showed
that he felt this, by treating the major portion as studio work; though,
no doubt, the impatience of his imperial patron in a measure
necessitated the employment of many aids.

It is difficult to do justice to the fine qualities of Maximilian.
Perhaps he was not really so eccentric as he seems. The oddity of his
doings and sayings may be perhaps more properly attributed to his having
been a thorough German. The genial men of that nation, even to-day and
since it has come more into line in point of culture with France and
England, are apt to have a something ludicrous or fantastic clinging to
them; even Goethe did not wholly escape. Maximilian was strong in body
and in mind, and brimming over with life and interest. We are told that
when a young man he climbed the tower of Ulm Cathedral by the help of
the iron rings that served to hold the torches by which it was
illuminated on high days and holidays. Again we read: "A secretary had
embezzled 3000 gulden. Maximilian sent for him and asked what should be
done to a confidential servant who had robbed his master. The secretary
recommended the gallows. 'Nay, nay,' the Emperor said, and tapped him on
the shoulder, 'I cannot spare you yet'"; an anecdote which reveals more
good sense and a larger humanity than either monarchs or others are apt
to have at hand on such vexing occasions. Thausing says admirably, "A
happy imagination and a great idea of his exalted position made up to
him for any want of success in his many wars and political
negotiations," and elsewhere calls him the last of the "nomadic
emperors," who spent their lives travelling from palace to palace and
from city to city, beseeching, cajoling, or threatening their subjects
into obedience. He himself said, "I am a king of kings. If I give an
order to the princes of the empire, they obey if they please, if they do
not please they disobey." He was even then called "the last of the
knights," because he had an amateurish passion for a chivalry that was
already gone, and was constantly attempting to revive its costumes and
ordinances. Then, like certain of the Pharaohs of Egypt, he was pleased
to read of, and see illustrated by brush and graver, victories he had
never won, and events in which he had not shone. He himself dictated or
planned out those wonderful lives or allegories of a life which might
have been his. It was on such a work of futile self-glorification that
he now wished to employ Dürer.

The novelty of the art of printing, and the convenience to a nomadic
emperor of a monument that could be rolled up, suggested the form of
this last absurdity--a monster woodcut in 92 blocks which, when joined
together, produced a picture 9 feet by 10, representing what had at
first been intended as an imitation of a Roman triumphal arch; but so
much information about so many more or less dubious ancestors, &c., had
to be conveyed by quaint and conceited inventions, that in the end it
was rather comparable to the confusion of a Juggernaut car, which
never-the-less imposes by a barbarous wealth and magnificence of
fantastic detail. And to this was to be joined another monster,
representing on several yards of paper a triumphal procession of the
emperor, escorted by his family, and the virtues of himself and
ancestors, &c. Such is fortune's malice that Dürer, who alone or almost
alone had conceived of the simplicity of true dignity and the beauty of
choice proportions and propriety, should have been called upon by his
only royal patron to superintend a production wherein the rank and
flaccid taste of the time ran riot. The absurdity, barbarism, and
grotesque quaintness of this monument to vanity cannot be laid
exclusively at Maximilian's door; for the architecture, particularly of
the fountains, in Altdorfer's or Manuel's designs, and in those of many
others, reveals a like wantonness in delighted elaboration of the
impossible and unstructural. The scholars and pedantic posturers who
surrounded the emperor no doubt improved and abetted. Probably it was
this Juggernaut element, inherited from the Gothic gargoyle, which
Goethe censured when he said that "Dürer was retarded by a gloomy
fantasy devoid of form or foundation." Perhaps this was written at a
period when the great critic was touched with that resentment against
the Middle Ages begotten by the feeling that his own art was still
encumbered by its irrational and confused fantasy. We who certainly are
able to take a more ample view of Dürer's situation in the art of his
times, see that he is rather characterised by an effort which lay in
exactly the same direction as that of Goethe's own; and while
sympathising with the irritation expressed, can also admire the great
engraver for having freed himself in so large a degree from the
influence of fantasy "devoid of form and foundation," even as the
justest Shakespearean criticism admires the degree in which the author
of Othello freed himself from Elizabethan conceits. It is difficult to
appreciate the difference for a great artist in having the general taste
with rather than against the purer tendencies of his art. Probably the
Greeks and certain Italians owe their freedom from eccentricity, in a
very large measure, to this cause. But I intend to treat these questions
more at length in dealing with Dürer's character as an artist and
creator. It was necessary to touch on the subject here, because
Maximilian embodies the peculiar and fantastic aftergrowth, which
sprouted up in some northern minds from the old stumps remaining from
the great mediaeval forest of thoughts and sentiments which had
gradually fallen into decay. All around, even in the same minds, waved
the saplings of the New Birth when these old stumps put forth their so
fantastic second youth, seeming for a time to share in the new vigour,
though they were never to attain expansion and maturity.


Thausing shrewdly remarks, "This love of fame and naïve delight in the
glorification of his own person are further proofs that the Emperor Max
was the true child of his age. No one was so akin to him in this respect
as the painter of his choice, Albert Dürer." This last is a reference to
those strutting, finely-dressed portraits of the artist which stand
beside the entablatures bearing his name, that of his birthplace, the
date, &c., in four out of the five most elaborate pictures which Dürer
painted. But I would like to suggest that probably this apparent
resemblance to his royal patron is not thus altogether well accounted
for. May there not have been something of Homer's invocation of his
Muse, or of that sincerity which makes Dante play such a large part in
the "Divine Comedy"?--something resembling the ninth verse of the
Apocalypse: "I John, who also am your brother and companion in
tribulation ... was in the isle that is called Patmos ... and heard
behind me a great voice as of a trumpet, saying...." Those little
strutting portraits of himself sprung, perhaps, out of this relation to
those about him of the man by native gift very superior, who is not made
contemptuous or inclined to emphasise his isolation, but who is ever
ready to say, "It is I, be not afraid." The man who painted and
conceived this is the man you know, whom you have admired because he
carried his fine clothes so well in your streets. Here I am even in the
midst of this massacre of saints, I have conceived it all and taken a
whole year to elaborate it; and since you see me looking so cool and
well-dressed in the midst of it, you need not be offended or
overwhelmed. Such is ever the naïvety of great souls among those whose
culture is primitive. It is like the boasted bravery of the eldest among
little children, wholly an act of kindness and consideration, not a
selfish vaunt. That they should be admired and trusted is for them a
foregone conclusion; and when they call on that admiration and trust,
they do it merely for the sake of those whom they would encourage and
console, for whose sakes they will even hide whatever in them is really
unworthy of such admiration and such trust.

We do not easily realise the corporate character of life in those days.
Very much that seems to us quaint and absurd drew proper significance
from the practical solidarity that then obtained; what appears to us a
strange vanity or parade may have appeared to them respect for the
guild, the town, the country to which they belonged. Dürer signed
"Noricus,"--of Nuremberg;--and preferred its little lucrative
citizenship to those more remunerative offered by Venice and Antwerp.
"Let all the world behold how fine the artist of Nuremberg is." Just as
he says, "God gave me diligence," so it seems natural to him to
attribute a large half of his fame and glory to his native town. In many
respects the great man of those days felt less individual than an
ordinary man does now; for classes did not so merge one into the other,
and their character was more distinct and authoritative. The little
portrait of himself added to those wonderful _tours-de-force_ made them
something that belonged to Nuremberg and to Germans. Even so it would be
with some treasure cup, all gold and jewels, belonging to a village
schoolmaster, which none of his neighbours dared look at save in his
presence; for he was the son of a great baron whom his elder brothers
robbed of everything except this, and his presence among them alone made
them able to feel that it really belonged to their village, was theirs
in a fashion. These suggestions will not, I think, appear fantastic to
those who ponder on the apparently vainglorious address of much of
Dürer's work, and keep in mind such a passage from his writings as this:

"I would gladly give everything I know to the light, for the good of
cunning students who prize such art more highly than silver and gold. I
further admonish all who have any knowledge in these matters that they
write it down. Do it truly and plainly, not toilsomely and at great
length, for the sake of those who seek and are glad to learn, to the
great honour of God and your own praise. If I then set something
burning, and ye all add to it skilful furthering, a blaze may in time
arise therefrom which shall shine throughout the whole world."[22]

But still, even if such considerations may bring many to accept my
explanation of this contrast, I do not want to over-insist on it. I
think that wherever men have been superior in character, as well as in
gift or rank, to those about them, something of this spirit of the good
eldest child in a family is bound to be manifested. But just as such a
child may be veritably boastful and vain at other times,--however purely
now and then, in crises of apparent difficulty or danger, its vaunt and
strut may spring from real kindness and a considerate wish to inspire
courage in the younger and weaker;--so doubtless there was a
haughtiness, sometimes a fault, in Dürer as in Milton.


But we have been led a long way from Kaiser Max and his portable
monument. The reader will re-picture how the court arrived at Nuremberg
like a troop of actors, whose performance was really their life, and was
taken quite seriously and admired heartily by the good and solid
burghers. This old comedy, often farce, entitled "The Importance of
Authority," is no longer played with such a telling make-up, or with
such showy properties as formerly, but is still as popular as ever; as
we Londoners know, since the last few years have given us perhaps an
over-dose of processions, illuminations, &c. &c. In this case the chief
actors in the show piece were men of mark of an exceptionally
entertaining character; with many of them Dürer and Pirkheimer were soon
on the best of terms.

Foremost, Johann Stabius, the companion of the Emperor for sixteen years
without intermission in war and in peace, who was associated with Dürer
to provide the written accompaniment for the monument; a literary
jack-of-all-trades of ready wit and lively presence. A contemporary
records: "The emperor took constant pleasure in the strange things which
Stabius devised, and esteemed him so highly that he instituted a new
chair of Astronomy and Mathematics for him at Vienna," in the Collegium
Poetarum et Mathematicorum founded in the year 1501, under the
presidency of Conrad Celtes.

In all probability there would have been besides the learned protonotary
of the supreme court, Ulrich Varenbuler, often mentioned as a friend in
the letters of Erasmus and Pirkheimer, and the subject of the largest of
Dürer's portrait woodcuts, which shows him to us some ten years later,
still a handsome trenchant personality, with a liking for fine clothes,
and the self-reliant expression of a man who is conscious that the
thought he takes for the morrow is not likely to be in vain.

It may be that Dürer then met for the first time too the Imperial
architect, Johannes Tscherte, for whom he afterwards drew two armillary
spheres, to take the place of those on which he had cast ridicule; for
Pirkheimer wrote to Tscherte: "I wish you could have heard how Albert
Dürer spoke to me about your plate, in which there is not one good
stroke, and laughed at me. What honour it will do us when it makes its
appearance in Italy, and the clever painters there see it!" To which
Tscherte replied: "Albert Dürer knows me well, he is also well aware
that I love art, though I am no expert at it; let him if he likes
despise my plate, I never pretended it was a work of art." And in a
later letter he speaks "of the armillary spheres drawn by our common
friend Albert Dürer." He was one of those who helped Dürer in his
mathematical and geometrical studies; and he, like Pirkheimer, dedicated
books to him. Although the mathematics of those times are hardly
considered seriously nowadays, they then ranked with verse-making as a
polite accomplishment, and had all the charm of novelty. Dürer, no
doubt, had some gift that way, as he seems to have made a hobby of them
during many years. Besides those who came in the Imperial troop, Dürer
had many opportunities of meeting men of this kind, for such were
constantly passing through Nuremberg. Dürer has left us what are
evidently portraits of some whose names are lost: of others we have both
name and likeness, among them the English ambassador, Lord Morley.

In 1515 "Rafahel de' Urbin, who is held in such high esteem by the Pope,
he made these naked figures and sent them to Albrecht Dürer at Nuremberg
to show him his hand." This shows us that travellers through Nuremberg
sometimes brought with them something of the breath of the great
Renaissance in Italy. The drawing, which bears the above inscription in
Dürer's own handwriting on the back, is a fine one in red sanguine,
representing the same male model in two different poses, in the
Albertina. Raphael had, we are told by Lodovico Dolce, drawings,
engravings, and woodcuts of Dürer's hanging in his studio; and Vasari
tells us he said: "If Dürer had been acquainted with the antique he
would have surpassed us all." The Nuremberg master, in return for the
drawing, sent a portrait of himself to Raphael, which has unfortunately
been lost. There appears to have been quite a rage for Dürer's work in
Italy, and above all at Rome: we know that it provoked Michael Angelo to
remonstrate; probably on many lips it was merely a vaunt of superior
knowledge or taste, as rapture over the conjectural friends or aids of a
great quatrocentist is to-day. The tokens of esteem which he won from
distinguished travellers, and this drawing which reached him testifying
to the interest and friendship felt for him by the Italian whose fame
was most widespread, must have been full of encouragement, and have
compensated in some measure for the feeling he had that he was only a
hanger-on at Nuremberg, though he might still have been "a gentleman" in
Venice. Yet Nuremberg itself furnished many desirable or notable
acquaintances. There was Dürer's neighbour, the jurist, Lazarus
Spengler; later the most prominent reformer in Nuremberg, who in 1520
dedicated to him his "Exhortation and Instruction towards the leading of
a virtuous life," addressing him as "his particular and confidential
friend and brother," whom he considers, "without any flattery, to be a
man of understanding, inclined to honesty and every virtue, who has
often in our daily familiar intercourse been to me in no common degree a
pattern and an example to a more circumspect way of life;" whom,
finally, he asks to improve his little book to the best of his ability.
Dürer had before this rendered him service in designing his coat of arms
for a woodcut and furnishing a frontispiece to his translation of
Eusebius' "Life of St. Jerome." He was, moreover, a poet, author of "an
often-translated song"; he wrote verses to discourage Dürer from
spending his time in producing the doggerel rhymes which at one time he
was moved to attempt,--framing poems of didactic import, and publishing
one or two on separate sheets with a woodcut at the top, in spite of the
inappreciative reception given to them by Spengler and Pirkheimer.
Besides Spengler, there were "Christopher Kress, a soldier, a traveller,
and a town councillor;" and Caspar Nützel, of one of the oldest
families, and Captain-general of the town bands. Both of these went with
Dürer to the Diet at Augsburg in 1518. The martial Paumgartners were two
brothers for whom Dürer painted the early triptych at Munich (see page
204). One of them is supposed to figure as St. George in the All Saints
picture. Lastly, there were the Imhoffs, the merchant princes of
Nuremberg, as the Fuggers were at Augsburg. A son of the family married
Felicitas, Pirkheimer's favourite daughter, in 1515, and Dürer stood
godfather to their little Hieronymus in 1518. It is easy to imagine that
there was many a supper and dinner, when a thousand strange subjects
were even more strangely discussed; when Pirkheimer now made them roar
with a hazardous joke, or again dumbfounded them with Greek quotations
pompously done into German, or made their flesh creep and the
superstitions of their race stir in them by mysteriously enlarging on
his astrological lore,--for to his many weaknesses he added this, which
was then scarcely recognised as one.


In spite of all his wealthy and influential friends, Dürer found it
difficult to get the emperor to indemnify him for his labours, though
the Town Council had received a royal mandate as early as 1512 from
Landau. The following is an extract:

Whereas our and the Empire's trusty Albrecht Dürer has devoted much zeal
to the drawings he has made for us at our command, and has promised
henceforth ever to do the like, whereat we have received particular
pleasure; and whereas we are informed on all hands that the said Dürer
is famous in the art of painting before all other Masters: we have
therefore felt ourself moved, to further him with our especial grace,
and we accordingly desire you with earnest solicitude, for the affection
you bear us, to make the said Dürer free of all town imposts, having
regard to our grace and to his famous art, which should fairly turn to
his profit with you, &c.

The town councillors sent some of their principal members to treat with
Dürer, and he resigned his claim "in order to honour the said
councillors and to maintain their privileges, usages, and rights." In
1515 the drawings for the "Gate of Honour" were finished, and Dürer
began to press again for pay. Stabius had promised to speak for him, but
nothing had come of it. Albrecht thought Christoph Kress could be of
more avail; so he wrote to him:

(No date, but certainly 1515). DEAR HERR KRESS, The first thing I have
to ask you is to find out from Herr Stabius whether he has done anything
in my business with his Imperial Majesty, and how it stands. Let me know
this in the next letter you write to my Lords. Should it happen that
Herr Stabius has made no move in the matter, ... Point out in particular
to his Imperial Majesty that I have served his Majesty for three years,
spending my own money in so doing, and if I had not been diligent the
ornamental work would have been nowise so successfully finished. I
therefore pray his Imperial Majesty to recompense me with the 100
florins--all which you know well how to do. You must know also that I
made many other drawings for his Majesty besides the "Triumph."

Not long after this, Maximilian, by a _Privilegium_ (dated Innsbruck,
September 6, 1515), settled an annual pension of 100 florins on
the artist.

We Maximilian, by God's grace, &c., make openly known by this letter for
ourself and our successors in the Empire, and to each and every one to
wit, that we have regarded and considered the art, skill, and
intelligence for which our and the Empire's trusty and well-beloved
Albrecht Dürer has been praised before us, and likewise the pleasing,
honest and useful services which he has often and willingly done for us
and the Holy Empire and also for our own person in many ways, and which
he still daily does and henceforward may and shall do: and that we
therefore, of set purpose, after mature deliberation, and with the full
knowledge of ourself and the Princes and Estates of the Empire, have
graciously promised and granted to this same Dürer what we herewith and
by virtue of this letter make known:

_That is to say_, that one hundred florins Rhenish shall be yielded,
given, and paid by the honourable, our and the Empire's trusty and
well-beloved Burgomaster and Council of the town of Nürnberg and their
successors unto the said Albrecht Dürer, against his quittance, all his
life long and no longer, yearly and in every year, on our behalf, out of
the customary town contributions which the said Burgomaster and Council
of the town of Nürnberg are bound to yield and pay, yearly and in every
year, into our Treasury. And whatever the said Burgomaster and Council
of the town of Nürnberg and their successors shall yield, give, and pay
to the said Albrecht Dürer, as stands written above, against his
quittance, the same sum shall be accepted and reckoned to them as paid
and yielded for the customary town contributions which they, as stands
written above, are bound to pay into our Treasury, as if they had paid
the same into our own hands and received our quittance therefor, and no
harm or detriment shall in anywise be done therefor unto them or their
successors by us or our successors in the Empire. Whereof this letter,
sealed with our affixed seal, is witness.

Given, &c.

Thus Dürer became Court painter: in return for his salary he had to
work. As soon as the "Gate of Honour" was finished, there was the "Car
of Triumph" to be taken in hand, the first sketch for it (now in the
Albertina) having already been made about 1514-15. In December 1514
Schönsperger, the Augsburg printer, printed a splendid "Book of Hours"
for Maximilian. The type was specially made for the book, and only a few
copies were printed, some on fine vellum with large margins. One copy
which Maximilian intended for his own use was sent to Dürer that he
might decorate the margins with pen-drawings in various coloured inks.
Of this work there exist forty-three pages by Dürer himself and eight by
Cranach at Munich, and at Besançon thirty-five pages by Burgkmair,
Altdorfer, Baldung Grien, and Hans Dürer. Marvellously deft and
light-handed as are Dürer's freehand arabesques, embellished by racy
sketches of which these borders consist, they are nevertheless touched
with a like unsatisfactory character with the other works undertaken for
Maximilian, and are almost as far removed from the spirit and
performance of the best period for this kind of work, as is the
_Triumphal Arch_ from that of Titus.

Dürer was also employed on another woodcut representing a long row of
saintly ancestors of this eccentric sovereign. He accompanied Caspar
Nützel and Lazarus Spengler, the representatives of Nuremberg, to the
Diet of Augsburg, and there made some drawings of his royal patron, on
one of which is written, "This is my dear Prince Max, whom I, Albrecht
Dürer, drew at Augsburg in his little room upstairs in the palace, in
the year 1518, on the Monday after St. John the Baptist's day." (_See
opposite_.) And Melanchthon narrates that "once Max himself took the
charcoal in hand to make his mind clear to his trusty Albert, and was
vexed to find that the charcoal kept breaking short in his hand when
Dürer said; 'Most gracious emperor, I would not that your Majesty should
draw so well as I do!' by which he meant, 'I am practised in this, and
it is my province; thou, Emperor, hast harder tasks and another

[Illustration: _By permission of Messrs. Braun, Clément & Co.
Dornach._--"This is the Emperor Maximilian, whose likeness I, Albrecht
Dürer, have taken, at Augsburg, high up in the palace in his little
chamber, in the year of Grace 1518, on Monday after St. John the
Baptist's Day" Charcoal-Drawing. Albertina, Vienna]


A charming letter from Charitas Pirkheimer gives us a little sunlit
glimpse of the tone of Dürer's lighter hours.

The prudent and wise Masters Caspar Nützel, Lazarus Spengler, and
Albrecht Dürer, for the time being at Augsburg, our gracious Masters and
good friends.


As a friendly greeting, prudent, wise, gracious Masters and especially
good friends, cousins, and wellwishers, I desire every good thing for
you, from the Highest Good. I received with great pleasure your friendly
letter and its news of a kind suited to my order, or rather my trade;
and I read it with such great devotion that more than once tears ran
down my eyes over it--truly rather tears of laughter than of sorrow. I
consider it a subject for great thankfulness that, with such important
business and so much gaiety on hand, your Wisdoms do not forget me, but
find time to instruct me, poor little nun, about the monastic life
whereof you now have a clear reflection before your eyes. I conclude
from this that doubtless some good spirit drove you, my gracious and
dear Masters, to Augsburg, so that you might learn from the example of
the free Swabian spirits how to instruct and govern the poor imprisoned

For since our trusty Master Warden (Caspar Nützel), as a lover of the
Church, likes to help in a thorough reformation, he should first behold
a pattern of holy observance in the Swabian League. Let Master Lazarus
Spengler, too, inform himself well about the apostolic mode of common
life, so that at the annual audit he may be able to give us and others
counsel and guidance, how we may run through everything, that nought
remain over. And Master Albrecht Dürer, also, who is such a genius and
master at drawing, he may very carefully inspect the stately buildings,
and then if some day we want to alter our choir he will know how to give
us advice and help in making ample slide-windows (? blinds), so that our
eyes may not be quite blinded.

I shall not further trouble you, however, to bring us music to learn to
sing by notes, for our beer is now so very sour that I fear the dregs
might stick fast among the four reeds or voices, and produce such
strange sounds that the dogs would fly out of the church. But I must
humbly pray you not quite to wear out your eyes over the black and white
magpies, so as no longer to know the little grey wolves at Nürnberg. I
have heard much of the sharp-witted Swabians all my life, but it would
be well if we learnt more from them, now that they are so wisely
labouring with his Imperial Majesty to save the Apostolic life from
being done away with. It is easy to see what very different lovers of
the Church they are from our Masters here.

Pardon me, my dear and gracious Masters, this my playful letter. It is
all done _in caritate--summa summarum_; and the end of it is that I
should rejoice at your speedy return in health and happiness with the
glad accomplishment of the business committed to you. For this I and my
sisters heartily pray God day and night; still we cannot carry it
through alone, so I counsel you to entreat the pious and pure hearts (of
Augsburg) to sing in high quavers that thereby things may speed well.
And now many happy times to you!

Given at Nürnberg on September 3, 1518.

SISTER CHARITAS, unprofitable Abbess of S. Clara's at Nürnberg.

Dürer returned with a letter to the Town Council of Nürnberg, from which
the following extract is taken:

Honourable, trusty, and well-beloved, Whereas you are bound to pay us on
next St. Martin's day year a remainder, to wit 200 florins Rhenish, out
of the accustomed town contribution which you are wont to render into
our and the Empire's treasury....We earnestly charge you to deliver and
pay the said 200 florins, accepting our quittance therefor, unto our and
the Empire's trusty and well-beloved Albrecht Dürer, our painter, on
account of his honest services, willingly rendered to us at our command
for our "Car of Triumph" and in other ways; and, at the said time, these
200 florins shall be deducted for you from the accustomed town
contribution. Thus you will perform our earnest desire.

Given, &c.

Dürer procured a receipt for the 200 florins, signed by the emperor
himself. But before "next St. Martin's day year," Maximilian was dead,
and the 200 florins no longer his to dispose of, being due to the new
Emperor Charles V. The municipal authorities of Nürnberg refused to pay
until his Privilegium had been confirmed by Maximilian's successor.

Dürer wrote the following letter to the Council:

NÜRNBERG, April 27, 1519.

Prudent, honourable and wise, gracious, dear Lords. Your Honours are
aware that, at the Diet lately holden by his Imperial Roman Majesty, our
most gracious lord of very praiseworthy memory, I obtained a gracious
assignment from his Imperial Majesty of 200 florins from the yearly
payable town contributions of Nürnberg. This assignment was granted to
me, after many applications and much trouble, in return for the zealous
work and labour, which, for a long time previously, I had devoted to his
Majesty. And he sent you order and command to that effect, signed with
his accustomed signature, and quittance in all form, which quittance,
duly sealed, is in my hands.

Now I rest humbly confident that your Honours will graciously remember
me as your obedient burgher, who has employed much time in the service
and work of his Imperial Majesty, our most rightful Lord, with but small
recompense, and has thereby lost both profit and advantage in other
ways. And therefore I trust that you will now deliver me these 200
florins to his Imperial Majesty's order and quittance, that so I may
receive a fitting reward and satisfaction for my care, pains, and
work--as, no doubt, was his Imperial Majesty's intention.

But seeing that some Emperor or King might in the future claim these 200
florins from your Honours, or might not be willing to spare them, but
might some day demand them back again from me, I am, therefore, willing
to relieve your Honours and the town of this chance, by appointing and
mortgaging, as security and pledge therefor, my tenement situated at the
corner under the Veste, and which belonged to my late father, that so
your Honours may suffer neither prejudice nor loss thereby. Thus am I
ready to serve your Honours, my gracious rulers and Lords.

Your Wisdoms' willing burgher, ALBRECHT DÜRER.

[Illustration: FREDERICK THE WISE. Silver-point drawing, British

Dürer next wrote "to the honourable, most learned Master Georg Spalatin,
Chaplain to my most gracious lord, Duke Friedrich, the Elector"
of Saxony.

The letter is undated, but clearly belongs to the early part of the year

Most worthy and dear Master, I have already sent you my thanks in the
short letter, for then I had only read your brief note. It was not till
afterwards, when the bag in which the little book was wrapped was turned
inside out, that I for the first time found the real letter in it, and
learnt that it was my most gracious Lord himself who sent me Luther's
little book. So I pray your worthiness to convey most emphatically my
humble thanks to his Electoral Grace, and in all humility to beseech his
Electoral Grace to take the praiseworthy Dr. Martin Luther under his
protection for the sake of Christian truth. For that is of more
importance to us than all the power and riches of this world; because
all things pass away with time, Truth alone endures for ever.

God helping me, if ever I meet Dr. Martin Luther, I intend to draw a
careful portrait of him from the life and to engrave it on copper, for a
lasting remembrance of a Christian man who helped me out of great
distress. And I beg your worthiness to send me for my money anything new
that Dr. Martin may write.

As to Spengler's "Apology for Luther," about which you write, I must
tell you that no more copies are in stock; but it is being reprinted at
Augsburg, and I will send you some copies as soon as they are ready. But
you must know that, though the book was printed here, it is condemned in
the pulpit as heretical and meet to be burnt, and the man who published
it anonymously is abused and defamed. It is reported that Dr. Eck wanted
to burn it in public at Ingolstadt, as was done to Dr. Reuchlin's book.

With this letter I send for my most gracious lord three impressions of a
copper-plate of my most gracious lord of Mainz, which I engraved at his
request. I sent the copper-plate with 200 impressions as a present to
his Electoral Grace, and he graciously sent me in return 200 florins in
gold and 20 ells of damask for a coat. I joyfully and thankfully
accepted them, especially as I was in want of them at that time.

His Imperial Majesty also, of praiseworthy memory, who died too soon for
me, had graciously made provision for me, because of the great and
long-continued labour, pains, and care, which I spent in his service.
But now the Council will no longer pay me the 100 florins, which I was
to have received every year of my life from the town taxes, and which
was yearly paid to me during his Majesty's lifetime. So I am to be
deprived of it in my old age and to see the long time, trouble, and
labour all lost which I spent for his Imperial Majesty. As I am losing
my sight and freedom of hand my affairs do not look well. I don't care
to withhold this from you, kind and trusted Sir.

If my gracious lord remembers his debt to me of the staghorns, may I ask
your Worship to keep him in mind of them, so that I may get a fine pair.
I shall make two candlesticks of them.

I send you here two little prints of the Cross from a plate engraved in
gold. One is for your Worship. Give my service to Hirschfeld and
Albrecht Waldner. Now, your Worship, commend me faithfully to my most
gracious lord, the Elector.

Your willing ALBRECHT DÜRER at Nürnberg.


[Footnote 20: _The Massacre of the Ten Thousand Saints._]

[Footnote 21: Supposed to be the _Madonna with the Iris_.]

[Footnote 22: "Literary Remains of Albrecht Dürer," p. 178.]

[Footnote 23: The soil about Nürnberg is sandy.]




But while Dürer was thus busily at work or dunning his great debtors,
Luther had appeared. In 1517 he nailed his ninety-five theses to the
door of Wittenberg church, and Cardinal Caietan by the unlucky Leo X.
was poured like oil upon the fire which they had lighted. Luther had
been summoned to meet the Cardinal at the Diet of Augsburg, where Dürer
went to see Maximilian, though he only arrived there after our friends
from Nuremberg had departed. However, Luther passed through Nuremberg on
foot, and borrowed a coat of a friend there in order to figure with
decency before the Diet. Yet Dürer probably did not meet him, although
the words in the letter to George Spalatin, quoted above, "If ever I
meet Dr. Martin Luther, I intend to draw a careful portrait of him and
engrave it on copper," do not forbid the possibility of this early
meeting before the Reformer had become so famous. Next the Pope tried to
soothe by sending Miltitz with flatteries and promises--a man that could
smile and weep to order, but who succeeded neither with the Elector
Frederic, nor with Luther, nor with Germany. At Nuremberg the preacher
Wenzel Link soon formed a little reformed congregation, to which Dürer,
Pirkheimer, Spengler, Nützel, Scheurl, Ebner, Holzschurher, and others
belonged. We have already seen how, soon after this, Dürer was anxious
for Luther's safety, by the letter to the wise Elector, quoted above;
and in 1518 he sent Luther a number of his prints, and soon after joined
with others of Link's hearers to send a greeting of encouragement. And
before long we find him jotting down a list of sixteen of Luther's
tracts, either because he intended to get and read them, or because they
were already his; and on the back of a drawing we find the following
outline of the faith such as he then apprehended it, in which we see
clearly that Christ has become the voice of conscience--the power in a
man by which he recognises and creates good.

Seeing that through disobedience of sin we have fallen into everlasting
Death, no help could have reached us save through the incarnation of the
Son of God, whereby He through His innocent suffering might abundantly
pay the Father all our guilt, so that the Justice of God might be
satisfied. For He has repented, of and made atonement for the sins of
the whole world, and has obtained of the Father Everlasting Life.
Therefore Christ Jesus is the Son of God, the highest power, who can do
all things, and He is the Eternal life. Into whomsoever Christ comes he
lives, and himself lives in Christ. Therefore all things are in Christ
good things. There is nothing good in us except it becomes good in
Christ. Whosoever, therefore, will altogether justify himself is unjust.
_If we will what is good, Christ wills it in us_. No human repentance is
enough to equalise deadly sin and be fruitful.

In this the old mythological language is retained, but it has received a
new interpretation or significance, and this quite without the writer's
perceiving what he is doing. Christ is affirmed to have repented of the
sins of the whole world. Among the early heresiarchs there were, I
believe, some who went so far as to hold that he had committed the sins
before he repented of them, and triumphed over their effects by his
sufferings and death. In any case, a similar feeling is expressed by our
odd mystic Blake in his "Everlasting Gospel":

"If He (Jesus) intended to take on sin,
His mother should an harlot have bin."

The actual records of Christ are too meagre the moment he is regarded as
an allegory of human life; and such additions to the creed spring
naturally out of the ardent seeker's desire to realise the universality
implied in the dogma of his Godhead, which is accepted even by Blake as
a historical fact beyond question. It was not the character of so much
as can be perceived of the universe which daunted Luther and Dürer, as
it daunts the serious man to-day. They accepted what appears to us a
cheap and easy subterfuge, because they believed it to have been
prescribed by God; the ambiguous inferences which such a prescription
must logically cast on the Divine character did not arrest their
attention. What they gained was a free conscience, a conscience in which
Christ was, to use their language, and which was in Christ; and for
practical piety this was sufficient. They themselves had not made up
their minds on theoretical points; it was only in the face of their
opponents that they thought of arming themselves with like weapons, and
sought a mechanical agreement upon questions about which no one ever has
known, or probably ever can know, anything at all. This was where
Luther's pugnacity betrayed him; so that little by little he seems to
lose spiritual beauty, as the monk, all fire and intensity, is
transformed into the "plump doctor," and again into the bird of ill omen
who croaked.

"The arts are growing as if there was to be a new start and the world
was to become young again. I hope God will finish with it. We have come
already to the White Horse. Another hundred years and all will be over."

Compare this with Dürer's:

"Sure am I that many notable men will arise, all of whom will write both
well and better about this art than I."

"Would to God that it were possible for me to see the work and art of
the mighty masters to come, who are yet unborn, for I know that I might
be improved."

I do not want to judge Luther harshly; he had done splendidly, and it is
difficult to meddle with worldly things without soiling one's fingers
and depressing one's heart; but I ask which of these two quotations
expresses man's most central character best--the desire for nobler
life--which reveals the more admirable temper? (Dürer had been touched
by the spirit of the Renaissance as well as by that of the Reformation;
we can distinguish easily when he is speaking under the one influence,
when under the other, and the contrast often impresses one as the
contrast between the above quotations. And it gives us great reason to
deplore that the two spirits could not work side by side as they did in
Dürer and a few rare souls, but that in the world there was war between
them.) It seems inevitable that the things men fight about should always
be spoiled. The best part of written thought is something that cannot be
analysed, cannot therefore be defended or used for offence; it is a
spirit, an emanation, something that influences us more subtly than we
know how to describe.

We see by the passage quoted that Dürer was not only influenced by
Luther's heroism, but by his doctrinal theorising. Unfortunately we do
not know whether he outgrew this second and less admirable influence.
Did he feel like his friend Pirkheimer in the end, that "the new
evangelical knaves made the old popish knaves seem pious by contrast?"
Milton under similar circumstances came to think that "New Presbyter is
but old Priest writ large." Probably not; for just as we know he did not
abandon what seemed to him beautiful and helpful in old Catholic
ceremonies, usages, and conceptions, so probably he would not confuse
what had been real gain in the Reformation with the excesses of
Anabaptists or Socialists, or even of Luther himself or his followers.
There is no reason to suppose he would have judged so hastily as the
gouty irascible Pirkheimer, however much he may have deplored the course
of events. It must have been evident to thoughtful men, then, that it
was impossible for so large an area to be furnished with properly
trained pastors in so short a time, and that therefore more or less
deplorable material was bound to be mingled in the official _personnel_
of the new sect. It is impossible, when we consider how he solved the
precisely parallel difficulty in aesthetics, not to feel that if he had
had time given him, he would have arrived in point of doctrine at a
moderation similar to that of Erasmus.

Men deliberate and hold numberless differing opinions about beauty....
Being then, as we are, in such a state of error, I know not certainly
what the ultimate measure of true beauty is.... Because now we cannot
altogether attain unto perfection shall we, therefore, wholly cease from
learning? By no means ... for it behoveth the rational man to choose the
good. (See the passage complete on page 15.)

Luther imagined that the faith that saved was entire confidence in the
fact that a bargain had been struck between the Persons of the Trinity,
according to which Christ's sacrifice should be accepted as satisfying
the justice of his Father, outraged by Adam's fault. To-day this appears
to the majority of educated men a fantastic conception. For them the
faith that saves is love of goodness, as love of beauty saves the artist
from mistakes into which his intelligence would often plunge him. Jesus
has no claim upon us superior to his goodness and his beauty; nor can we
conceive of the possibility of such a claim. But we recognise with Dürer
that we do not know what the true measure of goodness and beauty is, and
all that we can do is to choose always the good and the beautiful
according to the measure of our reason--to the fulness of the light at
present granted to us.


The curiosity of the modern man of science no doubt is descended from
that of men like Leonardo and the early Humanists, but it differs from
almost more than it resembles it. The motive power behind both is no
doubt the confidence of the healthy mind that the human intelligence
will ultimately prove adequate to comprehend the spectacle of the
universe. But for the Humanists, for Dürer and his friends, the
consciousness of the irreconcilableness of that spectacle with the
necessary ideals of human nature had not produced, as in our
contemporaries and our immediate forerunners it has produced, either the
atrophy of expectation which afflicts some, or the extravagance of
ingenuity that cannot rest till it has rationalised hope, which torments
others. They were saddled with neither the indifference nor the
restlessness of the modern intellect. They escaped like boys on a

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