WILLIBALD PIRCKHEIMER

1470–1530

An outstanding German Renaissance humanist

Willibald Pirckheimer was an outstanding German Renaissance humanist, with refined classical education and a loose character. His father was a Nuremberg patrician and diplomat. In his youth Willibald accompanied his father in his journeys. In 1489-1495 he studied law, philosophy and humanities in Italian universities of Padua and Pavia.

From 1496 to 1523 Pirckheimer was a member of the Small Council of Nuremberg. In those days, the city was the centre of humanism in Germany. In 1499, Pirckheimer commanded Nuremberg troops in the Swabian War where the city was allied to Maximilian I. Two Emperors, Maximilian I and his successor Charles V, appreciated Pirckheimer’s diplomatic capacity. When Martin Luther started Reformation, Pirckheimer was his supporter but he grew disillusioned during the German Peasants’ War.

Pirckheimer translated classical philosophy and literature from Greek into Latin, was interested in mathematics and astronomy. In his works he could rely on an encyclopedic knowledge of Greek and Roman literature. In his work Short Description of Germany he collected everything written by the authors of Antiquity about the ancient Germans. He was a partisan of the Emperor, of German unity and of free development of secular culture. He defended the philosopher and humanist Johann Reuchlin against Catholic theologians. At first he supported Luther but became adversary of Reformation when he saw the cruelty of Protestants and their ardour in destroying the objects of art.

Since his childhood, Pirckheimer was a friend of Albrecht Dürer (they grew up together) and strongly influenced him. Dürer not only made Pirckheimer’s portraits but depicted him in other woodcuts (Bath House, Meeting of Joachim and Anne at the Golden Gate) and others.