Albrecht Dürer: A “German Leonardo”

Among the most influential artists of the northern Renaissance was the German painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer (DYOOR ur). In 1494, he made the first of several trips to Italy to study the works and techniques of Italian masters. At home, he employed the new methods in his own paintings, engravings, and prints. Through these works as well as his essays, Dürer helped spread Renaissance ideas to northern Europe.

Dürer had a keen, inquiring mind. Because of his wide-ranging interests, which extended far beyond art, he is sometimes called the “German Leonardo.”

Dürer is well-known for applying the painting techniques he had learned in Italy to engraving, a method of making prints from metal plates. In an engraving, an artist etches a design on a metal plate with acid. The artist then uses the plate to make prints. Many of Dürer's engravings and paintings portray religious upheaval of the time.

Illustration of a bearded man in traveling clothes and a walking stick on an outdoor path. A cherub with a halo sits on his shoulders, and a hooded bearded man holding a stein looks on.

This 1511 woodcut print by Albrecht Dürer is called St. Christopher.

Northern Renaissance Humanists and Writers

Like the Italian humanists, northern European humanist scholars stressed education and classical learning. At the same time, they emphasized religious themes. They believed that the revival of ancient learning should be used to bring about religious and moral reform.

Although most humanist scholars wrote mainly in Latin, other writers began to write in the vernacular, or everyday language of ordinary people. In this way, their works were accessible to the new middle class audience living in towns and cities.


The great Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus (ih RAZ mus), became a priest in 1492. He used his knowledge of classical languages to produce a new Greek edition of the New Testament and a much-improved Latin translation of the Bible. At the same time, Erasmus called for a translation of the Bible into the vernacular.

Desiderius Erasmus sits reading at an ornate desk, as others look on. A book titled, Utopia, leans against the leg of the desk.

Desiderius Erasmus was a Dutch priest and humanist scholar who was active during the Northern European Renaissance. He believed an individual's chief duties were to be open-minded and to show good will toward others.

“I disagree very much with those who are unwilling that Holy Scripture, translated into the vernacular, be read by the uneducated.” For him, “the strength of the Christian religion” should not be based on people's ignorance of it, but on their ability to study it on their own.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments