Dürer's work is dedicated to the proportions of the human body in order to enable artists to  draw features that are as close as possible to nature. It is comprised of four books: Book I teaches the reader how the entire length of a human body can be divided into proportions and then drawn on the basis of the "divider". Book II explains the use of a measuring stick which measures a sixth of the entire length and likewise enables the human figure to be drawn as realistically as possible. Book III demonstrates how the previously determined proportions can be changed to create variations, and Book IV looks at the illustration of movements. Dürer distinguishes between the body masses of men, women and children. 
The work includes around 150 illustrations, including vignettes. The illustrations were created on flat woodcut profiles that Dürer otherwise did not use for artistic work.
Dürer chose the German language and focused on goldsmiths and stone engravers, painters and carpenters. He spent two decades polishing the words as the German language was hardly ever used for publications. Dürer was not able to refer to known terminology for the geometric and anatomical figures and invented a lot of new terms.
The cover page and first pages of the introduction were lost in this copy and were presumably updated by hand in the 18th century under consideration of a second copy.


With this work, Dürer created the first printed instructions for the artistic illustration of humans. Various editions and translations appeared within a short period of time. Dürer's work was reprinted without any changes for a long time. In 1791 Goethe wrote that Dürer's proportional teachings contained "truly wonderful sayings. It would be nice if they were revisited and translated into more recent language." In 2011, an edition was published with an in-depth commentary.
Dürer appeared to be familiar with the manuscript written by Leon Battista Alberti, who also explored the body's proportions. While Alberti viewed art as a medium for creating something beautiful, Dürer explained that everything brought to us by nature, regardless of its aesthetic appeal, is worthy of being illustrated.

He added to the mathematically geometric proportions that he had calculated to provide many different variations. Thus, fat and thin, long-legged and stocky figures were drawn that did not centre around a single standard measurement.
The body proportions reveal a growing interest in anthropometry during the early modern era. Dürer considered the art of measurement to be a science which was available to create a basis for medicine, physiognomy and even racial doctrine, and later for the manufacturing of clothing, too.


Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) revealed a fair amount about himself. The son of a goldsmith, he was born in Nuremberg in 1471, and as a child he worked in his father's workshop. His father recognised Albrecht's immense talent and enabled him to pursue an education in art. Returning home after his travels, he married Agnes Frey, a patrician's daughter from Nuremberg. The couple remained childless. After being widowed, Dürer's mother lived together with them until her death. Dürer's wife worked closely with her husband, sold his works on the market and ran the workshop in his absence.
Dürer travelled to Italy twice and was heavily influenced by the Italian renaissance. Religious pictures dominate his life's work, and through their realistic illustration, they shaped the history of art in the long term. His secular works are still known today. Dürer's teaching of proportions was ground-breaking for the history of art. During his teachings, he discussed the theory of perspectives and object measurements, on which he later went on to write two books.
He spent at least two decades on the work considered here. He died during the printing process, meaning that three out of the four books were typeset as a result of the information he had provided. 

The painter, printmaker and theorist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) is generally acknowledged to be the most significant figure in the history of European art outside Italy during the period of the Renaissance. Dürer saw himself as a model whereby his contemporaries in Northern Europe could combine their own empirical interest in naturalistic detail with the more theoretical aspects of Italian art. Artists across Europe especially admired and copied his innovative and impressive prints, which ranged from religious and mythological scenes to maps and exotic animals. Technically, Dürer's prints are exemplary for their detail and precision.
After receiving basic training in the arts from his father, a Nuremberg goldsmith, Dürer was apprenticed for three years with the painter Michael Wolgemut. He later made two visits to Venice where he was exposed to the artistic culture of the Italian Renaissance. When Dürer returned from his last visit to Venice in 1507, it was his intention to write a manual on the art of painting. However, his energies were soon concentrated on studies related to the proportions of the human form. From his work on the engraving of 'Adam and Eve' (1504) he had realised that the information given by Vitruvius in 'De architectura' was insufficient to establish universally valid laws of proportion. In order to progress towards a more systematic description of the external appearance of the ideal human body, Dürer began a study of nature using precise measurements of large numbers of men, women and children.
Dürer used two methodologies for his research. In the first instance, the distances between clearly defined points on the human body were measured and expressed mathematically in relation to the model's total height. By analysing the resultant data and eliminating aberrant figures, he was able to obtain typical values. Using the second method, Dürer divided the height of the human figure into six equal parts in order to obtain a mathematical gauge that was then used for all subsequent measurements. This gauge, or unit of measurement, would differ from one model to the next.
Although Dürer's research was largely completed by 1523 it was not until 1528, the year of his death, that the 'Vier Bücher von menschlicher Proportion' was published. This work, in four sections or 'books', was the first published attempt to apply the science of human anatomical proportions to aesthetics. The work is also notable for its extraordinary series of over 100 anthropometrical woodcuts.
In the first two books Dürer employs his research methodologies to depict proper proportions of the human form. The third book alters these proportions according to mathematical rules, giving examples of extremely fat and thin figures. The third book also features sections that focus on the construction of the head. In the fourth book Dürer adds a theory of movement. However, his concern is only with the external appearance of the body in motion, as opposed to any attempt to teach anatomy. The woodcuts in the fourth book feature the first employment of cross-hatching to depict shades and shadows in wood engraving.

The National Library of Scotland owns books one and two from a Latin 1532 edition, and books three and four from a Latin 1534 edition. Both of these editions have been bound together. In addition, 24 Dürer engravings have been included at the end of book four. These include such works as 'Melencolia I' (1514), 'Christ driving moneychangers from the Temple' (1508-9), 'Crucifixion' (1509) and the 'Bagpiper' (1514).

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