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Albrecht Dürer - Self-portrait as 13-year-old

by Alexandra Tuschka

"Know thyself" - this oft-quoted invitation has always been a concern of the conscious human being. Within painting, this examination of one's own person finds its purest form in self-portraits. Playful, serious, provocative, cheerful or unsparing - the self-portrait knows many forms. Even though this form of expression is said to have been known in antiquity, it is only found more frequently after the Middle Ages, when people began to recognize the individuality and creative spirit of each person. Albrecht Dürer is often associated with this change.

Already at the age of 13, the young artist made himself the subject of his work. In this silverpoint drawing we see him in three-quarter profile, the drawing floating almost ghostly in the pictorial space. "Daz hab jch aws eim spigell nach mir selbstbs kunderfet jm 1884, do ich noch ein kint was. Albrecht Dürer" - His own inscription reveals that he must have sat in front of the mirror. The long curls, the straight nose, the slender face: Dürer already shows here a remarkable knack for rendering his individual physiognomy. The clear and structured strokes and the rendering of plastic clarity are skills he learned from his father in the goldsmith's workshop.

The outstretched finger of the slender hand points out of the right edge of the picture. What this has to mean, is speculated wildly today. The gesture possibly alludes to pointing gestures of the altar paintings of churches in the area. Also the overhanging drapery shows off his skills very well. On his head he wears a cap; a preference that can be found in many of his well-known self-portraits. Incidentally, Dürer's father, Albrecht Dürer the Elder, also produced a self-portrait in the same year and also with silverpoint. 

Albrecht Dürer - Self-portrait as 13-year-old

Silverpoint on white primed paper, 1484, 27.5 × 19.6 cm, Albertina in Vienna


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