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Self-Portrait is a painting on wood panel by the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer. Painted early in 1500 just before his 29th birthday. It is one of three self-portraits and the last one. It is the most iconic and complex of his three self-portraits, and the one that has become the most popular. The self-portrait is remarkable because of its similar resemblance to many earlier representations of Jesus Christ. Art historians note the similarities with that of religious painting, including its symmetry and the style in which the artist directly encounters the viewer. Some Art Historians also suggest that the raising of his hands to the middle of his chest is as if it is the act of blessing. It is likely that Dürer portrayed himself in this way through a combination of arrogance and/or a desire by a young and ambitious artist to acknowledge that his talent as God given.

Eailer self-portraits of Albrecht Dürer. The left one was the second of three and the right was the first

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bluntness and apparent confrontation with the viewers, the self-portrait is unlike any self-portrait that came before its time. It is a half-length, frontal and favorably symmetrical. Its lack of an established background presents Dürer without regard to a location or time. The placements of the inscriptions in the dark fields on both sides of Dürer are presented as if they are floating in space. This helps emphasize a somber mood. I feel that this is achieved because of the use of brown tones on him against this stark black background. This darkness is a much stronger transformation compared to his two earlier versions of a self-portrait. This darker more god like version is by far more introverted and complex representation.

Mathematical study of the composition demonstrates its rather stiff symmetry, with several highlights aligned closely to this vertical axis down the middle of his painting. Nevertheless, some art historians believe the painting is not completely symmetrical and I can agree with this. As it was pointed out to me Dürer ‘s head is slightly to the right of center, and the strands of hair fall differently on both sides of his shoulders. The light source as well does not fall symmetrically across his body. It is as if the light is coming from the left of Dürer.

"Christ Giving His Blessing" by Hans Memling in the late 15th century

During the late 1400’s 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 Renaissance era since about 1420, and the pose seen used by Dürer in his earlier self-portraits. Fully frontal poses remained unusual up to this point. During the late medieval and Early Renaissance art eras the more difficult three-quarters view was developed, and artists were proud of their skill in using it. To viewers in 1500 and after, a frontal pose was associated with images from the medieval religious art movement involving Christ. This was a shocking painting as we see Dürer posed in this frontal pose as well as have a sense of this Christ-like figure. This painting immediately brings to mind the oil painting Christ Giving His Blessing by Hans Memling. As you can see the have very similar features. Both are in the same position and both have the right hands to their chest as well as both figures in each painting are confronting the viewer. The fact that they are some similar makes you see that Dürer’s self-portrait seems as if he is portrayed in a Christ-like manner.

I believe between his two earlier self-portraits to this amazingly complex version he has grown in talent and abilities. That doesn’t just happen he was strongly influenced along the way by previous painters. We can see the realism and the naturalism in this strong painting. But I feel the biggest thing that influenced him was this self-recognition movement sweeping the art world during this era. This painting is self glorified; it shows his true feelings of himself as this highly successful artist at this point and time in his life.

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