It looks nothing like me

Adam Smyth

  • Albrecht Dürer: Documentary Biography by Jeffrey Ashcroft
    Yale, 1216 pp, £95.00, January 2017, ISBN 978 0 300 21084 2

In the late summer or autumn of 1505, Albrecht Dürer travelled on horseback from Nuremberg to Venice. According to Vasari’s Lives of the Artists (1550), Dürer was looking to settle a score with Italian painters who were using his monogram on counterfeit prints, but it seems just as likely he wanted to soak up as much as he could from Italian art, and to promote his name and reputation. Dürer was 34 and had a range of masterpieces behind him: woodcut series such as Apocalypse (1498); engravings like Adam and Eve (1504) and St Jerome Penitent in the Wilderness (c.1496); some paintings and altarpieces. In Venice he soon sold the small panel paintings he’d brought with him (‘Two I let go for 24 ducats, and the other three I exchanged for the three rings’); he met Bellini, who liked his work, and asked Dürer ‘to do something for him’; he exploited contacts with Nuremberg and Augsburg merchants to secure portrait commissions; and he started the wood panel altarpiece that would become the Feast of the Rose Garlands for the church of San Bartolomeo near the Rialto (‘In a week,’ he wrote on 6 January 1506, ‘I shall have the white ground and rubbing down all finished’).

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