To celebrate Albrecht Dürer’s 550th birthday, here are 3 fascinating facts to change the way you see his legendary self-portrait


“Everything that was mortal to Albrecht Dürer is under this mound,” reads the epitaph on the tomb of the Northern Renaissance master, Albrecht Dürer. The elegy’s suggestion of her superhuman status is not without merit.

When Dürer died in 1528 at the age of 56, his fame was unprecedented for any artist north of the Alps. A contemporary of Michelangelo, Dürer espoused the traditions and techniques of Renaissance Italy (and had traveled there) while creatively emphasizing printmaking and continuing the culture of the Nordic tradition of detail. meticulous.

Perhaps most fascinating (at least in our contemporary times), Dürer was the first artist to master the self-portrait. Other artists included their similarities before Dürer, but Dürer returned to the subject on several occasions, rewarding him with his own tropes and techniques.

Albrecht Dürer, Self-portrait at the age of 13 (1484). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He painted three self-portraits during this lifetime and made several more in the form of engravings and drawings (the first he made in silver point at the age of 13). By far the best known of all these portraits is the last one he painted, taken at the age of 28, in 1500. The image is widely regarded as one of the most influential self-portraits in history. .

As this week marks the 550th anniversary of Last Born May 21, 1471, we decided to take a look at this infamous image. Here are three facts about Self-portrait (1500) which could change the way you view Dürer’s painting – and the art of self-portrait in general.

1) Yes, Dürer portrays himself as a god – but not (totally) out of arrogance

Part of the fame of this painting comes from an apparent provocation: Dürer pictured himself with a striking resemblance to Jesus Christ (or at least in the figure of Christ known throughout the history of art).

In Dürer’s life, it should be noted, it was believed that there had been an eyewitness (now debunked) of Jesus found in the “Letter from Lentulus”, written by the Roman official Lentulus, an alleged contemporary of Jesus. The epistle was first published in the 1400s. While today it is believed to be a forgery, his description of Christ’s features had a great influence on how he was imagined – and Dürer’s youthful, bearded, long-haired features match Lentulus’ account.

But is it just a coincidence? Even more than the features of the self-portrait, it is the composition which really hammers the house of the association. Until this time, full frontal half-length portraits of the kind of the 1500 Self-portrait had been reserved almost exclusively for representations of Christ.

Albrecht Dürer, Self-portrait (Madrid) (1498).  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Albrecht Dürer, Self-portrait (Madrid) (1498). Collection of the Museo del Prado.

Most of the portraits of the time corresponded to the three-quarter position, as seen in Dürer Self-portrait barely two years ago. There he portrays himself as a refined dandy – a very different image from the intense, frontal presentation.

Unlike the Italian landscape in the background of the self-portrait from 1498, the more famous self-portrait from 1500 also has a flattened black background, similar to an icon. Dürer had most likely seen – or seen inspired works – by Jan van Eyck Vera icon, which serves as a starting point for the composition of his self-portrait.

Copy after that of Van Eyck Vera icon (1439). Collection of the Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Van Eyck’s now-lost panel refers to religious icons who seek to recreate the biblical ‘true image’ of Christ – what was believed to have miraculously appeared on Saint Veronica’s veil after she dried her forehead on the face. road. at Golgotha.

Such devices certainly suggest to Dürer to claim that he was a god of art. Thus, in the 1940s, the famous art historian Erwin Panofsky request the question that continues to torment historians today: “How could an artist as pious and humble as Dürer have resorted to a process that less religious men would have deemed blasphemous?

But if it may sound arrogant, in the artist’s time, self-respect was, in fact, seen as the path to Christ. “Self-love and the love of God exist in a difficult symbiosis in pre-Reformation piety,” wrote Joseph Leo Koerner in his book The moment of the self-portrait in German Renaissance art, “Nicholas of Cuse, let us remember, considers narcissism as the starting point of devotion. We embrace God, in whose images we are made, not initially because we recognize him as our creator but because we see his face as a reflection of our own, whom we love above all else.

2) Her distinctive self-portrait is truly a Signature Self-portrait

Détail de l '<em> Self-portrait </em> by Albrecht Dürer (1500). “width =” 548 “height =” 536 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/05/durer-self-portrait-signature. jpg 548w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/05/durer-self-portrait-signature-300×293.jpg 300w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news- upload / 2021/05 / durer-self-portrait-signature-32×32.jpg 32w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/05/durer-self-portrait-signature-50×50.jpg 50w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/05/durer-self-portrait-signature-64×64.jpg 64w “sizes =” (max-width: 548px) 100vw, 548px “/ ></p>
<p class=Detail of Albrecht Dürer Self-portrait (1500).

28-year-old Dürer’s decision to represent himself was surprising in his day, both in his modern techniques and in his decision to focus on the subject. “The self-portrait of 1500 stages a kind of Copernican revolution of the image, where what was peripheral in the painting becomes central”, noted Koerner.

It’s not just that he put his own image at the center of the work either. He also gave new importance to the artist’s signature.

Detail of the self-portrait of Albrecht Dürer (1500).

Detail of Albrecht Dürer Self-portrait (1500).

Here his signature with the year 1500 and an inscription “I, Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg represented myself in my own paintings at the age of twenty-eight” appear on either side of Christ’s eyes, reinforcing the idea of the equivalence between the artist and Christ.

Dürer’s unique monogram-like signature “AD” with a capital A with a D below, also had a religious and temporal association, reminiscent of “anno domini”: “in the year of our Lord”.

3) One hand can mean so much

Detail of the self-portrait of Albrecht Dürer (1500).

Detail of Albrecht Dürer Self-portrait (1500).

Many have noted the artist’s unusual hand gesture while pinching the fur of the coat. “It’s a magnificent, even perverse detail,” noted Jason Farago in a recent close reading of the painting in the New York Times, “The one who plunges this pseudo-icon back into the realm of the senses.”

In addition to its modern sensuality, the gesture also, once again, underlined the Renaissance artist’s rising self-image. Dürer’s fur coat in the painting is said to have been associated with the upper classes.

Art historians have also postulated that the coat was made of sable fur, commonly used in paintbrushes of the time. Dürer fingering the hairs would thus make a direct link between the external signs of a high social status and the work of the artist.

Others noted that Dürer’s fingers could echo the forms of “AD” in a self-referential gesture.

Albrecht Dürer, Man of Sorrows (1515).  Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Albrecht Dürer, Tthe man of sorrows (1515). Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There is yet another interpretation of the mandorla (i.e. the pointed oval) that Dürer forms with his fingers: it may be an allusion to the Ostentatio Vulnerum or crucifixion wounds. In particular, it mimics the side wound of Christ, the last wound inflicted by a Roman soldier who pierced the side of Christ to confirm his death.

Paintings and sculptures of Jesus showing his wounds were a popular motif known as “Christ as the Man of Sorrows.” It was the one Dürer was familiar with, having created several of his own and even pictured himself as such in a drawing later known as Self-portrait of Bremen.

Albrecht Dürer, <em> Self-portrait, sick </em> (1509/11).  Collection of the Kunsthalle Bremen. “Width =” 536 “height =” 590 “srcset =” /wp-content/uploads/2021/05/1621641504_625_To-celebrate-Albrecht-Durers-550th-birthday-here-are-3-fascinating.jpg 536w , https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/05/durer-Bremen-Self-Portrait-273×300.jpg 273w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/ 2021/05 / durer-Bremen-Self-Portrait-45×50.jpg 45w “sizes =” (max-width: 536px) 100vw, 536px “/></p>
<p class=Albrecht Dürer, Self-portrait, sick (1509/11). Collection of the Kunsthalle Bremen.

Theologically, it was believed that the split on the side of Christ foreshadowed the opening of Adam’s chest to take the rib used to form Eve. Thus, from the split on Adam’s side is born mankind, and from the split on the side of Christ is born the salvation of mankind.

In this sense, Dürer’s enigmatic gesture can once again recognize God as the source of his own creative abilities. As Koerner explains, “the artist is only divine because God is Deus Artifex; man can create “new creatures” rather than just imitate created things, only because he imitates the creation of the world. “

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