Finding Dürer’s perspective

In the early 16th century Nuremberg-born artist Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) changed the landscape of his artistic practice – literally. Taking his cue from Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) and Piero della Francesca (1415–1492), Dürer began to introduce the ‘secret art of perspective’ into his works.

He used measurement and geometry to produce images that created the illusion of depth in a flat pictorial-plane. Over five hundred years later, the University of Melbourne’s Print Collection set out to celebrate Dürer’s cross-disciplinary approach to art and mathematics with the Dürer Drawing Day!

In the beginning of his artistic career, Dürer did not have the precise understanding of perspective that is associated with him today. Dürer struggled in his very early works to separate the different pictorial-planes accurately enough to create the illusion of depth. In The Prodigal Son Amid the Swine (1496) for example, a tree appears to sprout from the roof of a house in the background. The year 1510 is a turning point for Dürer’s artistic practice. After his travels around Bologna, he had gained and practiced knowledge of the art of perspective sufficiently to apply it in his own drawings. More

Image: Albrecht Dürer, Draftsman Drawing a Lute (from The Manual of Measurement), woodcut, 1525. Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne. Gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton 1959