Feel Art Again: Albrecht Dürer's "Self-Portrait at 26"

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Albrecht Dürer was a master of self-promotion, as he began his artistic career at age 13 with a self-portrait. Thus he's the perfect painter to discuss today, at the beginning of both Self-Promotion Month and German-American Heritage Month.

1. Dürer painted three widely-known self-portraits: one at age 22, one at age 26 (above), and one at age 29. In the portraits, he progresses from a young, effeminate boy to a Christ-like man.

2. By 1515, when Dürer exchanged works with Raphael, he had gained an international reputation. Giorgio Vasari, a Florentine artist, wrote that Dürer was the "truly great painter and creator of the most beautiful copper engravings," a point which he stressed several times. Today, Dürer is considered by many to be the greatest German Renaissance artist.

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3. Dürer was bitter that Germans still considered artists to be craftsmen. He felt himself to be an "artist-prince" like many of the notable Italian artists and his self-portraits show a man sure of his own genius.

4. German by birth, Dürer favored Italy over his home country, a favoritism that is evident in many of his paintings. In this self-portrait, the landscape is reminiscent of the scenes from his trip to Italy. He is dressed according to Venetian fashion and the compositional structure is similar to that of Florentine portrait painting. At the end of a second trip to Italy, Dürer wrote to a friend, "O, how cold I will be away from the sun; here I am a gentleman, at home a parasite."

5. The full beard that Dürer sports in this self-portrait was actually rare for men of his age at that time. Several years later, Dürer wrote an ironic poem in which he described himself as "the painter with the hairy beard."

See last week's installments of 'Feel Art Again' here and here. And if there's a painting you're dying to know more about, let Andréa know by leaving a comment. She'll see what she can do.