Today let's meet Leonardo da Vinci's northern
counterpart. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
Albrecht Dürer was born
in Nüremberg in 1471 -- 19 years after Leonardo da
Vinci. He was to Germany what Leonardo was to Italy
-- a great artist, humanist, and student of nature.
Still, the two were not at all alike.
Dürer's greatest works were his marvelous
prints. If you've seen nothing else, you've seen
copies of his famous "Praying Hands." You find them
in every curio shop. We could easily forget the
remarkable conviction -- and anatomical perfection
-- of the original, when we've seen a thousand
versions in black velvet and bronze-painted
plaster. Those indignities are matched only by the
ones inflicted on Leonardo's "Last Supper."
Dürer was trained as a goldsmith. Behind his
art was the mind of a superb technologist. Leonardo
was more the scientist, and Dürer more the
engineer. Both were powerfully curious about the
nature of things; but Leonardo was more determined
in getting at truth through direct observation.
Dürer, on the other hand, had greater
technical control of his art. Leonardo's soaring
imagination was expressed in his marvelous ability
to show us what his eye saw. Dürer's was
expressed in the powerful combination of startling
realism with the symbolic language of his time.
Dürer was in the center of the intellectual
life of his day -- everything from the Protestant
Reformation to mathematical analysis. He and
Leonardo show us that subtle line between pure
observation and analytical synthesis. They walked
on different creative paths.
In 1505 Dürer went to Italy to study Italian
advances in perspective drawing. He learned what
the Italians knew. Then he came back and recast
that art in the language of Euclidian geometry. His
first volume was titled "A treatise on
Constructions with Compasses and Rulers." An
original copy in our library is hauntingly close to
one of my old engineering texts. I see my old
homework problems among his constructions. The
second volume, titled "Four Books on Human
Proportion," continues to exploit his fascination
with, and his command of, formal geometry.
Dürer's full mastery comes clear in his late
engravings. Our eye roams these pictures from
detail to detail, through layers of symbolism, then
back to the whole. The depth of field is
astonishing. As our eye takes us into the picture,
we feel we're physically walking through rooms. Our
interest is carried from element to element the
same way it's carried by a fine storyteller.
Dürer harnessed one of the really dazzling
minds of the Renaissance to an engineer's clarity
and analytical sense -- with astonishing results.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
Mechanical creation of a perspective image by