the god of colors: researchers shed new light on artist albrecht dürer

Streit um Dürer-Bild
A self-portrait by Albrecht Dürer. The Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg will show the biggest ever exhibition of his early works from May 24 through September 2, with more than 200 oil paintings and drawings going on display. Ahead of the show, researchers used X-rays and infrared spectroscopy to examine more than 20 of the works, and made some fascinating discoveries.
Almost 500 years after the death of Albrecht Dürer, new details about the mysterious life of the Renaissance painter are coming to light. To uncover the secrets of his brilliant works, researchers have used X-rays and infrared cameras, uncovering information even about the sex life of the art world’s first international star.
With his wavy hair streaming in the wind, the famous tourist sailed along the Dutch coast. A whale that was “100 fathoms” long had reportedly been washed ashore, as he noted excitedly in his diary. He was determined to sketch this monster.

But when the ship reached the beach in question on Dec. 10, 1520, the animal had been washed away.

Nonetheless, this date is widely thought to be a turning point in the life of Albrecht Dürer. Soon after this journey, he was plagued by fever and fainting spells. On one sketch, he points to his spleen: “That’s where it hurts.” It went on like this for years. When he died, he was “dried out like a bundle of straw,” according to a contemporary. Until now, researchers were certain that Germany’s greatest painter was suffering from malaria. The theory was that he had contracted the deadly parasite in the swamps of the north.But is the theory true? Microbiologist Hanns Seitz from the University of Bonn has conducted an initial analysis of all historical notes on the artist’s symptoms and pains. He has concluded that the previous diagnosis was “clearly” wrong. During the winter, the risk of transmission from infected mosquitoes was virtually nonexistent — even back then.

{The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 17/2012 (Apr. 23, 2012) of DER SPIEGEL. Image above: Restorer Oliver Mack (R) and art historian Dr. Daniel Hess scrutinizing a Dürer painting in the Metropolitan Museum of New York. Dürer was astonishingly modern. He already began painting in the open air and signed his works with a monogram — the beginning of the copyright. Agents sold his woodcuts, which were reproduced on presses, to customers as far away as Spain and England. He was widely famous even during his lifetime — the art world’s first international star. Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg}

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