Albrecht Altdorfer
Biography of German Landscape Painter, Danube School.

Pin it

Battle of Alexander at Issus (1529)
oil on panel, Alte Pinakothek Munich

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.

Albrecht Altdorfer (1480-1538)

The Northern Renaissance German painter, etcher, engraver, draughtsman and architect, active mainly in Regensburg, Albrecht Altdorfer is best known for his paintings of historical and Biblical subjects, set in atmospheric landscapes, such as Battle of Alexander at Issus (1529, Alte Pinakothek, Munich) and Christ Taking Leave of His Mother (1520, National Gallery, London). Influenced by Italian Old Masters like Andrea Mantegna (1431-1406), as well as by other Northern Renaissance artists like Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), and the woodcuts and engravings of Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), Altdorfer was also an influential member of the Danube School (Donauschule) of landscape painting. Appointed town architect of Regensburg in his mid-40s, few of his architectural designs survive, although his mastery of linear perspective is evident in many of his pictures. His architectural paintings include works like the Italianate A Susanna and the Elders (1526, Alte Pinakothek, Munich) and the topographical Danube Landscape with Castle (c.1520, Alte Pinakothek, Munich). His later canvases owed more to the new style of Mannerism.

Danubian Landscape (1520-25)
National Gallery, London.

For an explanation of the
aesthetic issues surrounding
the creative visual arts, see:
Art Definition, Meaning.

For painting and wood carving
in Germany (1430-1580), see:
German Renaissance Art.

For a list of the best examples of
fine art painting, by the
world's top artists, see below:
Greatest Paintings Ever
Oils, watercolours, mixed
media from 1300-present.
Oil Painting
History, styles and development.
Best History Painters
Examples of the finest narrative
and allegorical paintings.
Best Landscape Artists
The finest scenic views.


We know nothing about Altdorfer's upbringing or how he learned to draw and paint. He is first mentioned as a resident of Regensburg in 1505, and in 1513 purchased property in the city. In 1510 he travelled into Northern Italy, where he absorbed works by Mantagna and others. In 1519 he was elected to the Regensburg municipal council, and in 1526 to the higher council, serving a period as Mayor, and a 12-year stint as town architect. Designs attributed to him include that of the pilgrim church Zur Schonen Madonna at Regensburg. His chief art patrons were Louis X and William IV, Dukes of Bavaria, and the Habsburg Emperor Maximilan I. Altdorfer died at the age of 57. His brother, Erhard Altdorfer, a pupil of Lucas Cranach the Elder, was also a talented painter and engraver.

Landscape Painting

Although familiar with all the painting-genres, Altdorfer was essentially a follower of Romanticism, and aligned himself with other Romantic artists like Jorg Breu, Rueland Frueauf, Wolf Huber, and Lucas Cranach, who painted pure landscapes without any human subjects. Their pioneering interest in capturing the dense German forests, as well as the atmospheric sunsets and moonlight of the region (later depicted so evocatively by Caspar David Friedrich 1774-1840), has led to art historians cataloguing them as the Danube School of landscape painting. Altdorfer was a leading exponent of the style, and his Landscape with Footbridge (1517-20, National Gallery, London) is believed to be the first ever pure landscape picture in oil. His love of scenery and nature is evident in many of his works, from his early St. George and the Dragon (1510, Alte Pinakothek), to his later Battle of Issus (1529).


Religious Painting

Religious subjects occupied Altdorfer throughout his painting career. His finest religious art, typically capturing intimate moments between Christ and his mother, are painted in an intense, even expressionistic, style. Perhaps his most famous work is the set of altar panels The Legend of St. Sebastian and The Passion of Christ (after 1510) that he executed for the St. Florian monastery outside Linz, Austria - a work exemplifying his knowledge of Italian techniques in the handling of spatial construction and perspective.

NOTE: North German religious painting is exemplified by the work of the Cologne School, which flourished under Stefan Lochner during the mid/late 15th century.

Historical Pictures

Altdorfer's finest history painting and arguably the most famous of all his compositions, is his masterpiece - Battle of Alexander at Issus (1529) - painted for the Bavarian Royal Court. The culmination of several earlier paintings on the subject of military battles which he had completed for Maximilian I in his illuminated manuscript Triumphal Procession (1512-14), the picture depicts in vivid detail the battle scene at Issus between the armies of Alexander the Great and the Persian Emperor Darius, set amidst a dominating, if somewhat extravagant landscape.


Altdorfer's skill at drawing is evident in his exquisite finished drawings of landscapes executed in black pen with white highlights and watercolour on brown or blue-gray paper. In addition, he demonstrated an unusual creativity in manuscript illumination and illustration.


Strongly influenced by the printmaking works of his great contemporary, the printmaker Albrecht Durer, Altdorfer produced a wide range of miniature engravings, woodcuts and, in particular, etchings, many of which were landscapes. A pioneer of copper etching, later in his career he often merged etching and engraving techniques in a single plate. Among his most important prints were the 40 plates known as The Fall and Redemption of Man.

Paintings, etchings and engravings by Albrecht Altdorfer can be seen in several of the world's best art museums including the Alte Pinakothek in Munich and the National Gallery in London.

• For biographies of celebrated artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For profiles of the major art styles/movements/periods, see: History of Art.
• For more biographical details about famous painters, see: Homepage.

Visual Artists, Greatest
© All rights reserved.