Four Apostles

Four Apostles after panels painted by Albrecht Dürer in 1526
St. John and St. Peter (left)
St. Mark and St. Paul (right)
Printed by F. Hanfstaengl, 1922.
1989.10 and 1989.11

Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), son and grandson of Nuremberg goldsmiths, was the godson of printer Anton Koberger, a neighbor, who operated the most extensive publishing and bookselling enterprise in fifteenth-century Europe. Noting his son’s proficiency as a draftsman in his gold shop, Albrecht’s father arranged his apprenticeship to woodcut artist Michael Wohlgemuth who contributed to many of Koberger’s ambitious publishing projects. Albrecht remained in Wohlgemuths’s studio, perhaps preparing woodcuts for Koberger’s Nuremburg Chronicle, until embarking on his Wanderjahre as a journeyman traveling through northern Europe. He accepted commissions, painted portraits, and hoped to enter the workshop of the preeminent German woodcut artist Martin Shongauer in Breisach, only to arrive after Shongauer’s death.

Dürer returned to Nuremberg in 1494 where he entered into an arranged marriage with a merchant’s daughter Agnes Frey, and then set off again, this time on a tour of Italy. His work during that period shows the deep imprint of his encounters with Pollaiuolo, Mantegna, and Giovanni Bellini. A second visit to Italy in 1506 and 1507 brought Dürer into closer alignment with Humanist ideas. After his return to Nuremberg the prolific graphic output of his studio furthered his recognition as a major artist throughout Europe.

Dürer entered the service of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I contributing to a prayer book for Maximilian, and also Maximilian’s enormous print, The Triumphal Arch, measuring over nine and a half feet wide and almost twelve feet high. Dürer designed 192 of the 195 blocks required to print the paper monument. While in Maximilan’s service he travelled to Augsberg in 1517, meeting Martin Luther who had written his ninety-five theses the previous year. Dürer became a devotee and traces of Lutheran theology can be noted in his woodcuts.

Maximilian died in 1519, and Albrecht and Agnes attended the coronation of Maximilian’s successor Charles V in Bologna, during which Dürer siezed on the opportunity to meet and present etchings to Matthias Grünewald, painter of the Isenheim Altarpiece. On this and subsequent journeys, Dürer fostered relations with artists in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. His health beginning to fail in 1521 the output of his studio declined, although he continued to add major pieces to his corpus, the Four Apostles among them. Eventually he worked almost to the exclusion of other projects on a number of theoretical books about measurement, human proportion, and the design of fortifications. Considered the greatest Renaissance artist from Germany, his work, and especially his woodcuts, has become iconic worldwide.

The figures in Dürer’s diptych Four Apostles, housed in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, are portrayed life-size. These smaller, but exquisite, lithographs are debossed at the lower right with the maker’s identification, F. Hanfstaengl/1922/Munchen. Franz Seraph Hanfstaengl (1804–1877) studied lithography at the Munich Academy of Art from 1819 to 1825. In 1826 he left Munich for Dresden to copy paintings at Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, the state Old Masters Gallery, a project that continued through 1852, in order to publish and issue the resulting lithographs. He returned to Munich in 1833 and set up a successful lithographic shop. In 1853 he opened a popular photographic studio becoming photographer to the court of Ludwig II. Sitters included Franz Liszt, Otto von Bismark, and Richard Wagner. Hanfstaengl’s lithography operation survived his death, run by his sons in London and New York, as well as in Munich.

A good selection of items by the hand of Albrecht Dürer are available in Bridwell Library Special Collections, including woodcut suites depicting the life and Passion of Christ, woodcuts from Dürer’s series Apocalypse, engravings, as well as related books produced by Anton Koberger such as the German Bible (1483) and the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), and the Michael Wohlgemuth illustrated Schatzbehalter (1491).

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Lower Basement
Four Apostles