Albrecht Durer embraced The Protestant Reformation in his paintings. This particular painting, ‘The Four Apostles’, his final masterwork completed in 1526 in Nuremberg, Germany, definitely depicts his newfound religious forward thinking. The Protestant Reformation was a reform that brought religion back to basics – scripture versus rituals and faith versus buying your way into salvation. Durer was at the forefront of this movement during the Northern Renaissance. Although art was not encouraged by The Protestant Reformation, note that this painting was not commission by any church. It was a mere statement of devotion as a follower of this Reformation. It’s very interesting to see his move away from a particular biblical story as the southern Italians like Da Vinci and Michelangelo are known to illustrate. This piece of art shows the Apostles in a relaxed setting with an open bible. This shows a firm movement against ritual and a clear transition towards logical reasoning. His avoidance of mannerism depicts a more raw, realistic point of view – which is what The Protestant Reformation stood for. The Apostles were not painted as men to be idolized but rather as ordinary men. Note the detail in their facial structure – very unimproved and realistic. Upon completion, this painting was donated to the Nuremberg town hall. In this monumental setting, I believe this painting set a new tone for the city and very well depicted the movement towards this newfound reasoning and logic and set a new foundation. It’s interesting to see how religion and the religious changes of that era are so clearly depicted in art and in this painting.
The attention to detail is worth noting. You can clearly see the southern Italian influences in this painting. The use of light and shadow – chiaroscuro, is a technique developed and perfected by Da Vinci. Also, this painting is life-size and it also has some dimensional features, also techniques used by artists in the Italian Renaissance.