Wednesday 28 December 2011

Albrecht Dürer, entrepreneur -- and litigant

Dürer liked to stamp his identity
on his works -- but his identifier
ended up on a stamp ...
The Christmas edition of The Economist (17 December) carries a fascinating feature, "Portrait of the artist as an entrepreneur", which you can read in full on The Economist website here. This article chronicles the manner in which Albrecht Dürer commercialised his art works and explains the cost-effectiveness of generating printed engravings and woodcuts in preference to painting in oils: the effort was comparable, but the profitability of selling copies made the non-painting options far more attractive and the publicity and exposure helped expand his reputation far more than one-off paintings which were often viewed only by the commissioning party and his immediate associates.

How did Dürer deal with counterfeits and infringers, in an era in which copyright had yet to be invented? The article explains:
"Dürer twice went to court to defend his sole use of his trade mark, in Nuremberg and in Venice, and twice won the case. The guilty parties were made to remove his monogram from their prints. Merely copying “AD”, however, was not adjudged a crime. The crime was to sell the fake print as an original. From then on, therefore, false monogrammed prints “after Dürer” kept appearing, confusing collectors to this day.

A trade mark was not the only identifier Dürer put on his pictures. He left lines of commentary on the sketches, and gave the finished engravings elaborate marble tablets explaining his subject and his purpose. He wanted to tell the world that he, Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg, had done this: that it was made, gemacht, with his genius and effort ...".
Curiously, while Dürer was particular to make sure that his initials appeared on his work so that it could be easily identified, the author of this article is apparently anonymous.

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