Sunday, 26 October 2014


“In trial or difficulty I have recourse to Mother Mary, whose glance alone is enough to dissipate every fear.” - Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

Albrecht Dürer was born May 21, in 1471, in the Imperial Free City of Nürnberg, Germany and died April 6, 1528, Nürnberg. He was a painter, printmaker, draughtsman and art theorist, generally regarded as the greatest German Renaissance artist. His vast body of work includes altarpieces and religious works, numerous portraits and self-portraits, and copper engravings. His woodcuts, such as the Apocalypse series (1498), retain a more Gothic flavour than the rest of his work.

Dürer was the third child of between fourteen and eighteen children. His father was a goldsmith. Albrecht’s godfather, Anton Koberger, became a printer and publisher in the same year that Albrecht was born. His most famous publication was the Nürnberg Chronicle, which included many woodcut illustrations. Albrecht may have learned about woodcuts and printing while working on this publication.

Albrecht, at the age of 13, was the first artist to create a self-portrait. Using a mirror he worked to draw his likeness. He said, “I drew it when I was still a child”. In later years he produced three more portraits of himself. At the age of 15 Albrecht was showing a talent for drawing. His talent was recognised, and he became an apprentice to Michael Wolgemut, an important artist in Nürnberg at the time. His workshop created a variety of art works, particularly woodcuts for books.

Dürer made many drawings, watercolours and oil paintings during his lifetime. Sixty of his oil paintings remain. His most celebrated works include “Young Hare” (1502), “The Praying Hands” (1508), and “Rhinoceros” (1515). Albrecht Dürer is regarded as one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance Era, and the greatest printmaker of all time.

“The Feast of the Rosary” (German: “Rosenkranzfest”) is a 1506 oil painting by Albrecht Dürer, now in the National Gallery, Prague, Czech Republic. The work dates to Dürer’s sojourn in Venice, and had been commissioned by Jacob Fugger, intermediary between emperor Maximilian I and Pope Julius II, during the painter's stay as the banker's guest in Augsburg.

The painting shows the Virgin Enthroned holding the Child in the centre, with two flying angels who are holding, above her, an elaborate royal crown made of gold, pearls and gems; this was a Flemish art scheme already widespread in the German area at the time. The throne’s backrest is covered with a green drape and by a baldachin which is also held by two flying cherubim. Below is an angel playing a lute, an evident homage to Giovanni Bellini’s altarpieces.

Mary is depicted in the act of distributing rose garlands to two groups of kneeling worshippers, portrayed on two symmetrical rows at the sides. The two rows are headed, on the left, by Pope Julius II (who had been approved the German brotherhood with a bull in 1474), crowned by the Child and followed by a procession of religious figures; and, on the right, by the German emperor Frederick III (portrayed with the face of his son and patron of Dürer, Maximilian I), crowned by Mary and followed by a lay procession.

Dürer likely based his portrait of the emperor on a drawing by Ambrogio de’ Predis, who had worked for Maximilian at Innsbruck. The pope and the emperor, considered at the time the supreme authorities of the Catholic world, have previously deposed the papal tiara and the imperial crown, and are now kneeling to receive the Madonna’s blessing. Other angels are distributing crowns of flowers, as is St. Dominic of Guzman (protector of the adoration of Mary and of the Rosary), who stands at the side of the Virgin.

Near the left border is the patriarch of Venice, Antonio Soriano, with the hands joined, and, next to him, Burkard von Speyer, then chaplain of the church of San Bartolomeo, who was also portrayed by Dürer in another painting. On the right, nearby a lush Alpine landscape, is the artist’s self-portrait with a cartouche in a hand: Here is the signature with a short inscription, reporting the time needed to complete the work (five months).

The characters next to the painter are likely Leonhard Vilt, founder of the Brotherhood of the Rosary in Venice, and (in black) Hieronymus of Augsburg, the architect of the new Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Annexed is the donor’s portrait. The style of the work is reminiscent of some Bellini’s works featuring the same quiet monumental appearance, such as the San Giobbe Altarpiece (1487) or the San Zaccaria Altarpiece (1505), especially regarding the guitar playing angel in the centre. Most the work was subject to later repainting, including the great part of the heads and some half of the panel.


  1. Do you know the dimensions of this painting? I realise the artist had to include every important religious figure and patron in his religious works, but I wish he had reduced the number of on-lookers, angels, musicians etc. It is to Durer's very great credit that the portraits of the emperor and the pope have stood the test of time.

    1. Hi Hels, it is Oil on poplar wood, 162 cm x 194.5 cm. As you say, it's packed with figures and details. Minimalism it ain't!