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Albrecht Dürer - Self-portrait

by Alexandra Tuschka

In the Museo del Prado in Madrid hangs a painting which, despite its small size of only 40 x 52 cm, attracts a lot of attention. Albrecht Dürer is hard to mistake; here we see him in three-quarter profile as a half figure. The self-portrait shows the Nuremberg artist at the age of 26 - or so the inscription reveals ("Das malt Ich nach meiner gestalt / Ich was sex vnd zwenczig jor alt"). Below it we see the famous monogram, consisting of his initials A and D. He is looking at the viewer and is wearing unusually fine clothing. He has on a white shirt, which has slight pleats and a gold trim.

Over it is a low-cut doublet with long sleeves. The forearm cuff as well as the cap are black and white striped. The last one looks like a pointed cap with fringes, but it corresponds to the fashion of that time in the northern alpine area. Under it, his golden curls, his trademark, are well visible. Over his left shoulder was placed a heavy cloak, held only by a cord.

He has placed his arm loosely on the parapet, thus also symbolizing a boundary between the space of the painting and the space of the viewer. The fingers in valuable leather gloves are loosely intertwined. On the right, a window opens to reveal a view of a mountainous landscape. This is not identified, but probably inspired by his journey from Nuremberg to Venice. For this Dürer had to cross the Alps, mostly on foot. In the process, he made numerous sketches and watercolors, which could later serve him to design backgrounds. To the fine appearance also fits the statement of a letter of the artist to his friend Willibald Pirckheimer in the year of origin about Italy: "Here I am a fine gentleman, at home I am a parasite."

On the one hand, the work shows Dürer's self-confidence as an artist and also his great talent for rendering individual physiognomy. The choice of the picture detail in half-figure format, the pose with the relaxed arm and the window cut-out are elements that he borrowed quite obviously from Venetian painting. However, the fact that he refrained from idealizing himself in the elaboration of his appearance illustrates his northern Alpine roots.

In order to understand the work properly, it is important to note that artists in the Middle Ages were seen as mere craftsmen who were executive and not creative in character. Dürer was one of the first artists to abandon this notion. This is shown on the one hand by the monogram, a kind of trademark that expresses his individuality; but also by this self-confident staging as a nobleman. Dürer deliberately refrains from making himself recognizable here as a painter. The gloves are also a clear indication of this; for what painter would paint with fine gloves. Rather, Dürer places himself in the mode of representation of the aristocracy and higher middle class.

It is assumed; this also applies to the self-portrait in the fur skirt; that the painter also wanted to express a kind of figurehead for his skills with his work; which gives potential customers an insight into the quality of his work. With this work, he was able to exemplarily combine the rendering of physiognomy, the successful depiction of various fabrics, as well as the view of the landscape. In addition, his presentation in this work testifies to a revaluation of the artist's personality, long before this attitude had also become socially accepted.

Albrecht Dürer - Self-portrait

Oil on canvas, 40 x 52 cm,1498, Museo del Prado, Madrid


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