Four self portraits by Albrecht Dürer, 1471-1528

Four self portraits by Albrecht Dürer, 1471-1528

at the age of 13, 22, 27 & 29

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Albrecht Dürer, Self Portrait, 1484, pencil on paper, Albertina, Vienna, Austria

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Albrecht Dürer, Self Portrait, or Portrait of the Artist Holding a Thistle, 1493, oil on parchment pasted on canvas, 56 x 44 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

Musée du Louvre: “Ce portrait de l’artiste a été réalisé par Dürer alors qu’il avait vingt-deux ans, à la fin de son tour de compagnonnage en Allemagne. Il s’agit d’un des tous premiers autoportraits indépendants de la peinture occidentale. Le chardon tenu par l’artiste est peut-être un gage de fidélité conjugale à sa fiancée Agnès Frey, ou encore une allusion à la Passion du Christ (plus précisément aux piquants de la couronne d’épines).
Après son apprentissage dans sa ville natale de Nuremberg, le jeune Dürer part pour un tour de compagnonnage à travers l’Allemagne du sud. Il date cet autoportrait de 1493. Il a alors vingt-deux ans et se trouve vraisemblablement à Strasbourg. Dürer choisit sa propre image comme sujet unique : il s’agit d’un des tous premiers autoportraits indépendants de la peinture occidentale. Depuis la fin du Moyen Age en effet, les peintres avaient pris l’habitude de se représenter dans leurs oeuvres ; ils étaient alors facilement reconnaissables à leur façon de regarder directement le spectateur. Cependant ces autoportraits ne constituaient qu’un élément secondaire dans de grandes compositions dont le sujet était le plus souvent religieux.
La composition, portrait en buste vu de trois quarts sur un fond sombre, s’inscrit parfaitement dans la tradition picturale de l’époque. La pose est un peu maladroite car le peintre devait sans cesse se regarder dans le miroir. Il porte un costume raffiné : petit bonnet rouge à pompons, élégant vêtement de dessus dont le gris bleuté contraste avec le blanc de la chemise à large échancrure brodée. Le visage conserve certains traits enfantins de son précoce Autoportrait dessiné (1484, Vienne, Graphische Sammlung Albertina) mais le cou viril, le nez assez fort et les mains longues et nerveuses appartiennent déjà à une personnalité adulte. Dürer, qui est aussi un excellent graveur, conçoit ses oeuvres d’une façon très graphique. La minutie quasi métallique des détails comme les piquants du chardon rappelle sa formation première d’orfèvre.
Une interprétation iconographique, qui remonterait à Goethe, a fait de ce portrait un cadeau de fiançailles à Agnès Frey que Dürer allait épouser à son retour à Nuremberg en 1494. Le chardon tenu par l’artiste est en effet aussi appelé en allemand “mannstreu”, ce qui signifiait “fidélité de mari”. Ce gage d’amour expliquerait aussi l’élégance du costume. La principale faille de cette hypothèse est que Dürer ignorait peut-être encore tout de ce mariage arrangé par son père. Le chardon pourrait aussi être une allusion à la Passion du Christ (plus précisément aux piquants de la couronne d’épines), en liaison avec l’inscription que porte le tableau à côté de la date : “Les choses m’arrivent comme il est écrit là-haut”. L’oeuvre annoncerait alors son Autoportrait de 1500 (Munich, Alte Pinakothek) où Dürer apparaît en Salvator Mundi, figure christique auréolée de la gloire de Dieu. Quoi qu’il en soit, cet autoportrait, mêlant fierté d’artiste et humilité humaine, dévoile le nouveau statut social auquel aspiraient désormais les peintres. Dürer illustre ainsi le passage de la tradition médiévale à un art nouveau, faisant de lui le premier peintre de la Renaissance germanique.”

 

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Albrecht Dürer, Self Portrait, 1498, oil on board, 53 x 41 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Museo del Prado “Dürer painted himself as a gentleman, dressed in light toned clothes and looking his best. He wears an open black and white doublet with a striped cap in the same colours, an undershirt trimmed with gold and a silk cord of blue and white threads holding up a grey-brown cloak that falls over his right shoulder. Dürer has sheathed the hands that he uses to paint in grey kidskin gloves indicative of high rank with the aim of elevating his social status from that of craftsman to artist and of locating painting among the liberal arts, as in Italy.The artist chose a half-length, three-quarter format with two focuses of attention: the face and hands. He located himself in a room that opens onto the outside through a window in the back wall, following Dieric Bouts’ Portrait of a Man of 1462 (London, National Gallery), a format that was subsequently widely adopted in Flanders and Italy. Basing himself on this Flemish format, Dürer added an Italian monumentality in the verticals and horizontals that create the window surround, also evident in the arrangement of his body which repeats the ‘L’ shape of the window in the bust, firmly supported by the arm leaning on the foreground ledge.Also present in this work is a characteristic of all Dürer’s exquisitely detailed portraits, namely his powers of psychological analysis, evident in the contrast between the sensual features and the cold, penetrating gaze.”

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Albrecht Dürer, Self Portrait, 1500, oil on board, Alte Pinakotech, Munich, Germany

Wikipedia: ” it is the last of his three painted self-portraits. It is considered the most personal, iconic and complex of his self-portraits, and the one that has become fixed in the popular imagination. The self-portrait is most remarkable because of its resemblance to many earlier representations of Christ. Art historians note the similarities with the conventions of religious painting, including its symmetry, dark tones and the manner in which the artist directly confronts the viewer and raises his hands to the middle of his chest as if in the act of blessing. In its directness and apparent confrontation with the viewer, the self-portrait is unlike any that came before. It is half-length, frontal and highly symmetrical; its lack of a conventional background seemingly presents Dürer without regard to time or place. The placement of the inscriptions in the dark fields on either side of Dürer are presented as if floating in space, emphasizing that the portrait has a highly symbolic meaning. Its sombre mood is achieved through the use of brown tones set against the plain black background. The lightness of touch and tone seen in his earlier two self-portraits has been replaced by a far more introverted and complex representation. In this work, Dürer’s style seems to have developed into what art historian Marcel Brion described as ‘a classicism like that of Ingres. The face has the inflexibility and impersonal dignity of a mask, hiding the restless turmoil of anguish and passion within.’ In 1500 a frontal pose was exceptional for a secular portrait; in Italy the conventional fashion for profile portraits was coming to an end, but being replaced with the three-quarters view which had been the accepted pose in Northern Europe since about 1420, and which Dürer used in his earlier self-portraits. Fully frontal poses remained unusual, although Hans Holbeinpainted several of Henry VIII of England and his queens, perhaps under instruction to use the pose. Late medieval and Early Renaissance art had developed the more difficult three-quarters view, and artists were proud of their skill in using it; to viewers in 1500 and after, a frontal pose was associated with images from medieval religious art, and above all images of Christ. The self-portrait is of a markedly more mature Dürer than both the 1493 Strasbourg self-portrait and the 1498 self-portrait which he produced after his first visit to Italy; in both of these earlier paintings he had highlighted his fashionable hairstyle and clothing and played on his youthful good looks. Dürer turned 28 around 1500, the time of this work. In the medieval view of the stages of life, 28 marked the transition from youth to maturity. The portrait therefore commemorates a turning point in the artist’s life and in the millennium: the year 1500, displayed in the centre of the upper left background field, is here celebrated as epochal. Moreover, the placing of the year 1500 above his signature initials, A.D., gives them an added meaning as an abbreviation of Anno Domini. The painting may have been created as part of a celebration of the saeculum by the circle of the Renaissance humanist scholar Conrad Celtes, which included Dürer.”

RA, 6 February 2018, Meeting No 10

 

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