“Memoirs of Journeys to Venice and the Low Countries” by Albrecht Durer

“Here I am a gentleman, at home a parasite.”

I downloaded this from Gutenberg. It’s delightfully dull — all about buying and selling jewels (for friends and to pay back his own debts), complaining about Italian painters (rascals, all of them, except Giovanni Bellini), worrying about his mom (he was paying her rent as well as his wife’s back in Germany), and admonishing his kid brother (do not neglect your studies). For much of it Durer seems to be balancing his account book. “How many florins did I spend on dinner last night?” Benvenuto Cellini, he’s not. Very rarely does Durer mention art, except in its most mundane obligatory sense: “The German commune hired me to paint an altarpiece. I should be done in a month and should be able to pay you back then.” One month later: “Altarpiece taking longer than expected.” And, if Durer engages in any hell-raising, he’s discreet enough not to write home about it.

But there are bits of humor and Durer’s character, at least as a friend, comes across:

“My French mantle greets you, and so does my Italian coat. It seems to me that you smell of gallantry. I can scent it from here; and they say here, that when you go courting, you pretend to be no more than 25 years old. Oh, yes! Multiply that and I’ll believe it.”

Durer’s now in the Low Countries with his wife and he’s using his prints as money. “Had sumptuous dinner with guildmaster. Must have cost a fortune in florins. Gave him a gift of an Annunciation in thanks. He gave my wife a parrot. Bought cage for parrot.”

Then there are the mundane details that I love: Durer dates his letters by church holiday as well as calendar day; he attempts to describe a parade he saw in Holland in honor of the Emperor… and it’s something else with costumes and each guild, society, and church group putting on their own display and a constructed dragon at the end surrounded by knights and ladies and led in chains.

Definitely recommended for folks into unsexy travelogues and dull time travel (what, you’re not?) and who don’t mind having the occasional eye-glazing moment when Durer gets preoccupied with his accounting.

“Now did I pay Hans a stiver or a florin or a pfennig or a…”

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5 responses to ““Memoirs of Journeys to Venice and the Low Countries” by Albrecht Durer”

  1. Rick Bowes says :

    Not surprised the Durer was a dull dog. Am amazed as ever at how much travel people did at a time when roads were bad and dangerous and ships sank on a regular basis.

    • Justin says :

      I guess the roads were peaceful at that time — though travel may have been prohibited to some extent since Durer proudly goes on when he talks about getting passage. The only crime has been from pickpockets and purse cutters. The ships, however, should be rightfully feared and Durer’s account suggests that.

  2. asakiyume says :

    Sounds like it would also be great for giving you exactly the sorts of details of mundane daily life that breathe real life into a historical setting–which makes it a great resource if you’re writing a story set then. “He gave my wife a parrot. Bought cage for parrot.”–loved that! The present that entails expense on one’s own part 😛

    • Justin says :

      Yeah. The economic angle’s fascinating. A lot of barter and small exchanges, often of novelties like nuts from Calicut, as well as speculation on goods such as jewels and carpets.

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