Text copyright © Dec 10, 2012 Dr. Elizabeth A. Garner, All Rights Reserved
WHERE DID DURER GO FOR HIS JOURNEYMANSHIP?
We actually have almost no information as to where Albrecht Durer went for his four years of journeymanship (known as the Wanderjarhe-the wandering years) that is totally reliable. There’s no information in Durer’s own handwriting and bits and pieces have been pieced together from the writings of others, all of which could have been embellished. What follows is the best conclusion from sparse evidence. Durer left Nuremberg in April 1490, right after Easter.
Based upon other’s writings, Durer headed towards Cologne, where his cousin Niklas Durer was working as a goldsmith and then headed to try to get employment with the famous artist Martin Schongauer in Colmar. Unfortunately, by the time Durer had reached Schongauer’s workshop, Schongauer had died. Schongauer’s brothers were extremely hospitable to Durer under the circumstances.
Durer next traveled to Basle (now in Switzerland) in 1492 to visit Schongauer’s goldsmith brother Georg. Apparently, Durer was working in Basle at the time, probably for a colleague and subcontractor of his Godfather by the name of Johann Amersbach. Then came a astounding discovery in the 20th century.
Despite the fact that Durer was not a woodblock cutter, and journeymen were not allowed to autograph their work by law, a woodblock of St. Jerome in his Cell surfaced with Albrecht Durer’s name carved on the back of the block and dated 1492. This is a very suspicious fact that indicates Durer was probably getting some very special attention from powerful authorities.
This print was manufactured as the frontispiece for a book about St. Jerome’s letters, published in Basle in 1492, five days after Columbus sailed on his first voyage, so we can place Durer in Basle during the summer of 1492. Durer had almost full artistic control over this composition and what he designed foreshadows Durer’s secrets because the print showed St. Jerome reading in three languages: Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.
The next evidence of Durer’s whereabouts comes from his 1493 self-portrait
This self-portrait has an inscription written in a Strassburg, Germany dialect that says:
Myj sach die gat
Als es oben schtat.
Roughly translated as: My affairs follow the course allotted to them on high. It is assumed that Durer was in Strassbourg when he painted this self-portrait because of this inscription.
Suddenly, Albrecht Durer was recalled from his journeymanship by his father in 1494 to marry Agnes Frey, the eldest daughter of Hans Frey, the second biggest publisher in Nuremberg after the Godfather, Anton Koberger.
And then suspicously, without working for anyone, Albrecht Durer was immediately made a Meister within a month’s time of his marriage! Who was bought off?
THE 1494 JOURNEY TO VENICE.
The plot thickens dramatically once Durer marries Agnes on July 7, 1494 and is made a Meister. By custom, the couple would have moved into a house owned by the father-in-law, Hans Frey, and Frey owned two very large houses at prime retail locations at the City Hall Square. Albrecht and Agnes moved into a house with a fully equipped print shop, a rather fortuitous situation for the newly married artist.
And then Bubonic Plague hit Nuremberg with a vengeance in mid August of 1494. By mid September, the plague wave was so bad that 118 people died in one day. By the time it was over 9,780 victims had been buried in mass graves from a city population of around 20,000. Many of the rich and powerful of Nuremberg fled the city to their summer mansions far outside of Nuremberg to survive. But for some strange reason, Albrecht Durer flees the plague in August 1494 and heads for Venice, something no Northern German artist had done before.
According to drawings Durer made on this trip, he ended up at Agnes’ cousin’s estate in what is now a part of Switzerland and then continued onto Venice to supposedly study with the Italian Masters to learn their secrets. What is suspicious is we have no idea where Agnes or the Durer Family (the father, mother, and livings siblings (originally 18) were during this time period. There’s no data about either of these important wealthy families.
It is doubtful that the Freys and the Durers would have remained in Nuremberg during this horrendous Plague wave, and very suspicious that we know where many of Nuremberg’s rich and powerful had gone to survive but nothing about the Durer Family or the Freys. What we do know is that the father, Albrecht the Elder, and the mother Barbara, a sister Margret, a few other siblings, and all the Freys did survive this scourge since we know their death dates occurred much later in time but no one will speculate where they were. It’s very possible they all went to Venice and much more likely.
DURER IN VENICE
Once Durer left Nuremberg in August 1494, it probably would have taken him at least 2-4 weeks to get to Venice, so he probably made it to Venice by end of September. A well-dated work shows that the fleeing artist first headed to Innsbruck, where he sketched the Emperor Maximilian’s residence. Afterwards, he rode over the Brenner Pass. Roughly a dozen watercolor drawings remain from this journey. He visited a total of five locations: Trent, Klausen, the castles of Arco and Segonzano, and the Eisack Valley. He was moving precisely along the border between the southern tip of Germania and Italy.
His father-in-law, Hans Frey, had a number of businesses Frey operated from Venice, and all the German merchants were forced to function from what was known as the German Compound, the Fondaccio de Tedeschi (which means the Compound of the Frogs in Italian), so Durer would have much support from his countrymen when he reached Venice.
But what is really strange is that Italy was at war during 1494 and 1495 when Durer fled to Venice, which is bizarre. Charles VIII, the Dauphin, the heir to the French Throne, had invaded northwestern Italy in the spring of 1494 so anyone fleeing the Nuremberg plague would have known this.
Charles trampled over the Italians and marched down the coast of Italy, invading Naples by March of 1495. The Republic of Milan, which bordered the Republic of Venice, had sided with Charles VIII. Charles was pitted against the Vatican, the Holy Roman Emperor, and Spain, a world war.
Durer and anyone who went with him would have been greatly affected by this war during the entire period he was in Venice.
THE NEWEST THEORY: FAKER PAR EXCELLENCE
A German museum curator Herr Eser has a new theory published in 2012 that Durer never went to Venice at all. He says that Dürer was, at most, a “man who cautiously approached the border” during his journey. “Driven by his own limitedness,” he wanted to give the impression that he was a widely-traveled man. Eser theorizes that Durer cunningly gave his watercolors names like “Italian Castle” or “Venetian Outpost,” and thus Dürer cheated his way into a country that he had actually barely set foot in. I differ dramatically with this theory because of the secrets Durer left us in his prints.
SO DID DURER GO TO VENICE OR NOT?
According to most art historians, Durer the Meister studied with the renowned painters Giovanni Bellini
who’s brother-in-law was the famous painter and engraver, Andrea Mantegna.
Durer traced every one of Mantegna’s engravings and based his famous 1494 Death of Orpheus drawing on Mantegna’s work.
DID DURER GO TO VENICE?
The proof lies in this print:
For one of his most treasured secrets about Venice is encoded in this print. See my previous article SEX Sells!