PIRCKHEIMER, Willibald

(1470-1530)
Willibald Pirckheimer was an important German humanist, responsible for significant translations of classical texts. He is best known today as the closest friend of the artist Albrecht Dürer.* Pirckheimer was born on 5 December 1470 to Dr. Johannes Pirckheimer and Barbara Löffelholz, members of wealthy pa­trician families from Nuremberg. He was their only surviving son. He was ed­ucated at the Universities of Padua and Pavia. Pirckheimer studied in Italy for a total of seven years, but left school before acquiring a degree, apparently because the Nuremberg city council frowned upon excessive education. He served on the city council from 1496 until his death, with only a few years' interruption while he traveled to Italy. Pirckheimer wed Crescentia Rieter on 13 October 1495. After bearing six children, Crescentia succumbed to childbirth fever in May 1504. Pirckheimer never remarried.
As a member of the inner circle of Emperor Maximilian I, Pirckheimer became acquainted with the leading humanists of the day, including Conrad Celtis, the first poet laureate of Germany. Celtis and Pirckheimer engaged in a lifelong enterprise to change the nature of education in Germany via a humanist revival of the classical literature of Greece and Rome. Pirckheimer's scholarly pursuits included extensive translations of Greek texts by Xenophon, Lucian, Isocrates, Plutarch, and Plato into Latin. In addition to translating Ptolemy's Geography, Pirckheimer introduced the study of historical geography in German schools. He also wrote an early history of Germany, an account of the Swiss War (in which he participated), and an autobiography. He translated the Roman historian Sallust from Latin into German and many writings by the early church fathers, such as Gregory of Naziarzus, John of Damascus, St. Nilus, and St. Fulgentius of Ruspe.
Pirckheimer was an active defender of Johannes Reuchlin and Martin Luther.* He was suspected of being the author of a satirical polemic against Luther's papist adversary, Johann Eck. For this reason he was included in the excom­munication bull issued against Luther in 1521; however, Eck granted Pirckhei-mer absolution prior to publication of the bull. Pirckheimer became disillusioned with the Reformation following civil disturbances of the 1520s and also because of Luther's rejection of the concept of free will.
It is often remarked that Albrecht Dürer would never have achieved fame and international celebrity were it not for his associations with Willibald Pirckhei-mer. Pirckheimer and his circle of humanist friends made available to Dürer literary texts that the artist could not have read on his own. Furthermore, Pirck-heimer's friendship with the artist introduced Dürer to a level of society that the artist would otherwise not have achieved. Finally, the eulogy that Pirckheimer wrote for "my best friend" Albrecht Dürer testifies to their abiding friend­ship. He followed his friend in death on 5 May 1530.
Bibliography
J. Hutchinson, Albrecht Durer: A Biography, chap. 5, "Willibald Pirckheimer," 1990.
G. Strauss, Nuremberg in the Sixteenth Century, 1966.
Cheryl Smart

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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