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Printing makes art accessible to a wider audience

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The invention of printing had a profound impact on culture. It enabled the transmission and communication of ideas through the printed word. Artists could share their work with one another as well as with a far wider audience than had previously been possible.

Until artists were able to make prints, the only pictures that most people were able to see were those on display in local churches. For aspiring artists, aware only of the works of the master who trained them, the lack of exposure to the work of other artists was a major obstacle to their development. A small and privileged minority was able to travel—a dangerous, expensive, and time-consuming undertaking-in order to expand their knowledge. The Northern Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer made the artistic pilgrimage—in his case travelling twice from his native Germany to Italy—to experience the work of the High Renaissance masters. His journeys had a significant influence on him. His figures became more solid and monumental, his colours became brighter, and he became aware of the laws of perspective and proportion.

Dürer was also privileged in being exposed to printing techniques. He grew up in Nuremberg, a major centre for printing. His godfather, Anton Koberger, was a leading publisher. His teacher, Michael Wolgemut, pioneered the use of woodcuts for book illustrations. Dürer soon adopted printing as part of his repertoire and his first great success was The Apocalypse (1498), a series of fifteen large woodcuts. It had enormous appeal since many people feared that the world would end in 1500. His prints were also appealing in terms of technique. Prior to that time the woodcut process had been used mainly for cheap religious prints and playing cards. The Apocalypse series raised woodcut prints into a genuine art form because Dürer's were unusually large and exquisitely detailed, displaying all the skills he had acquired on his travels


13 Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Albrecht Dürer,1498

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