The title of this volume clearly states its purpose. The Essential Dürer should provide newcomers to the artist as well as experienced viewers of his work an overview of the most important features of his oeuvre. Consequently, the organization of the essays begins with the major media and working methods of the artist, who excelled—even innovated—in painting, drawing, and the several media of printmaking, while also actively contributing designs for sculpture. The artist's complex personality and individual self-consciousness appear at every turn, from the biographical data that he provided as a personal memorial (even down to his recording of a nightmare!) to the subtle negotiations, both professional and spiritual, that he made within the tumultuous first decade of the Lutheran Reformation in his hometown of Nuremberg.
Of course, no man is an island. Albrecht Dürer interacted with the major artistic traditions of his day, both in the Netherlands and in Italy, especially Venice. He served as the familiar of princes, both the duke of Saxony and the Holy Roman Emperor, while maintaining close ties to the patrician elite of Nuremberg. Thus this volume investigates the artist's wider connections, even his interpretive fortunes in later German art history, as well as his individual artistic achievements.
Clearly large sections of libraries are already devoted to Albrecht Dürer, but several good reasons call for a new volume of such "essentials." For one thing, much of the important recent literature, including some major exhibitions and monographs, remains in German, inaccessible to the English reader. One of the ironies of twentieth-century Dürer scholarship is that the main foundational study of the artist's life and art, written by émigré Erwin Panofsky and first published during World War II in 1943, did not receive its translation from English into German until 1977 when it was undertaken by Lise Lotte Möller, who had been one of his last students at the University of Hamburg before his firing in 1933 by the National Socialists. Moreover, a topical yet broadly based essay approach to Dürer is not easy to find, and there really is nothing comparable in that accumulated library of earlier scholarship.
The scholars who have contributed to this volume are among the acknowledged experts on the artist who write in English. For the most part, they come from a younger generation, whose academic training was forged in the last quarter of the twentieth century. They consciously coordinated their efforts, beginning with an intensive academic workshop, held in 2000 at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Honing and revising these contributions has been an ongoing process to ensure that the essays are up-to-date with current art historical issues and Dürer scholarship. These essays have been kept deliberately terse but with enough scholarly references to assist the interested student to pursue research in various languages. Through this close attention to one artist by multiple authors, using their separate lenses of fundamental topics to address his manifold accomplishments, this volume strives to be considerably more than the sum of its parts or than any single author could provide.
Both editors are most grateful for the knowledge, judgment, and patience of all the contributors over nearly a decade of preparation of this volume. Crucially, the continuing support of our editor, Jo Joslyn, and director Eric Halpern of the University of Pennsylvania Press has enabled us to reach the completion of the project and produce the handsome volume that you now hold. During the formative process, facilitation at the Clark in the research workshop, coordinated by Darby English and promoted by director Michael Ann Holly, generously provided indispensable, interactive group discussion that shaped the entire project. Finally, the editors gratefully acknowledge each other for mutual scholarly and collegial support at critical moments in the process. At its culmination, they dedicate this book about one of art history's greatest figures to the community of scholars—past, present, and—especially in such an introductory volume—future.