Day 24 — National Blog Posting Month

Everyone knows this self-portrait of Albrecht Dürer. He painted it in 1500, five years after he opened his workshop. Some say he thinks he’s Jesus Christ, but it’s more likely he’s promoting his brand:  Artist bestowed with divine talent.

There was a feature article that ran in The Economist a couple of years ago on “how the greatest figure of the northern Renaissance [Dürer] invented a new business model.” I was going to do something with it at the time, but I went off on a Hans Holbein tangent.

It’s an interesting piece but it is long, and sometimes rambling, so I’m breaking it up into two posts. As tomorrow is Thanksgiving, consider this an introduction to Friday’s post. 

Albrecht Dürer: Portrait of the artist as an entrepreneur

Self-portrait in a Fur-Collared Robe, Albrecht Dürer 1500

Self-portrait in a Fur-Collared Robe, Albrecht Dürer 1500

Dürer was an independent businessman who made his money by selling copies of woodcuts and engravings he printed at his workshop. There were no artist guilds in Nuremberg, so was free build a reputation purely for himself. The outstanding quality of his engravings ensured that he was soon in demand. 

People bought his prints directly from his shop. By 1497 he had a sales agent to handle print sales in “far-flung places.” And then in 1498, he published the Apocalypse, a series of 15 woodcuts of scenes from the Book of Revelation (see yesterday’s post) which rapidly brought Dürer fame across Europe. 


He put his, or more often his “AD” monogram, not only on finished pictures but even on rough sketchesA trademark was not the only identifier Dürer put on his pictures. He left lines of commentary on the sketches, and gave the finished engravings elaborate marble tablets explaining his subject and his purpose. 


ASIDE: Dürer twice went to court to defend his sole use of his trademark, in Nuremberg and in Venice, and twice won the case.