Ulinka Rublack’s substantial new book, Dürer’s Lost Masterpiece, uses a lost 1509 altarpiece by Albrecht Dürer to paint a rich picture that includes art, collecting, commerce, religion, and the occult in Northern Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when art, it seems, was going “global.” It recounts Dürer’s exasperation about being underpaid and rushed by his patron, a rich Frankfurt merchant named Jakob Heller, who had commissioned an altarpiece that was to include portraits of himself and his wife praying at the picture’s lower corners. “I am losing time and money . . . . What do you think my living costs are?” the master cried to the merchant. Even a successful artist’s life can resemble a dog’s.

Rublack, a professor at Cambridge...


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