Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528) was a painter, print-maker, engraver, mathematician, and from Nuremburg whose artistic pieces earned him a name as one of the best artists of his time by his twenties. Said to be a piece depicting the very principles of Protestant Reformation, The Four Apostles is one of the most recognized pieces of its time to art and religious historians the world over.
It is speculated that Dürer was one of Martin Luther’s (the leading voice of the Protestant Reformation) biggest supporters of the Protestant Reformation despite his background as a devout member of the Catholic Church. It seems that no one can confirm nor deny whether Dürer ever left the church, though his admiration of Dr. Martin Luther was ever-present within his own private diary musings:
“And God help me that I may go to Dr. Martin Luther; thus I intend to make a portrait of him with great care and engrave him on a copper plate to create a lasting memorial of the Christian man who helped me overcome so many difficulties.” (Price, p255)
The Four Apostles (1523-1526. Oil on panel, each 7’1″ by 2’6″. Alte Pinakothek, Munich) is said to be a piece depicting the principles and foundations of Protestantism From left to right, we have St. John – one of Martin Luther’s favourite Saints – standing in the foreground, blocking St. Peter – whom allegedly holds a key to the Church – whereas in the right panel we see see St. Mark nearly-completely blocked by St. Paul, the spiritual father of Protestantism. This piece – though simple in nature – is symbolic enough in itself to display how the saints of the catholic church were finally being led forward from old ways, being taught by the leading saints of the Reformation to follow new principles in order to bring religion back into purer ways, not those which sold indulgences and pardoned people of sin through payment.
I found this piece to be interesting due mostly to the aesthetics, a simple motif with bold colors, as well as the creative composition of separating the piece onto two separate canvases. While Dürer’s etchings (such as Betende Hände) are more up my alley, I thought it was much more interesting to observe one of his actual paintings instead. The attention to detail is quite interesting, as it’s not overly-simple yet isn’t the most detailed of pieces out there. However, the use of robes to cover bodies is a technique which I believe is a bit lazy for an artist to use, no matter how many crinkles and folds one may add to the piece.
Hotchkiss Price, David. Albrecht Dürer’s Renaissance: Humanism, Reformation and the Art of Faith. Michigan, 2003