Self-Portrait at the Age of 13
Self-Portrait at the age of 13 is a silverpoint drawing by Albrecht Dürer, dated 1484 and now in the Albertina museum, Vienna. It is both the artist's first known, and one of the earliest extant, self-portraits in European art. It was completed some two years before Albrecht left his father's apprenticeship to study under Michael Wolgemut, who he quickly realised was a valuable mentor but not his equal in ability.
Throughout his life Dürer was resolutely self-confident and inclined to celebrate himself, a fact evident in both in his artistic output and writings. His three surviving self-portraits were all completed before he entered his 30s, and predate his mature period. As with the other self portraits, which are painted, this work can be interpreted as an expression of his awareness of and confidence in his developing artistic powers, a tone that is especially evident in his precocious facial expression. Dürer presents himself in half-length and in side view, in a pose closely modeled on a surviving portrait attributed to his father, also Albrecht, a goldsmith by profession.
The artist's left arm is raised, while his index finger, haughty and Christ-like, points to an unidentified area outside the pictorial frame. He presents himself in a flattering light, with long hair, boyish and fresh-faced good looks, and (was then both fashionable and indicative of his skill as a draftsman) elegant and elongated fingers. Referring to his relatively unsophisticated youthful drawings, Dürer wrote in 1528 that even simple sketches could express "the spiritual essence of an artist's creative impulse", while a talented artist could express more in a simple line-drawing than a mediocre artist could in a year of painting.
It is believed that the self-portrait was set as a task by Albrecht the Elder as a challenge for his son. It was signed at some unknown later date with the words "This I drew myself from a mirror in the year 1484, when I was still a child. Albrecht Dürer". Although the self-portrait is commonly known by the "at the age of 13" title, it is known to have been completed only in 1484; given he was born in May 1471, and did not give any name to the work, he may equally likely have been 12 years old.
- Bieler (2017), p. 21
- Hall (2014), p. 91
- Hall (2014), p. 90
- Chipps Smith; Sliver, p. 16
- Hall (2014), p. 92
- Bieler (2017), p. 17
- The same is true of his famous Self-Portrait at 28, which he similarly did not title. The autograph dates as the paintings as completed in 1500, leaving open the almost equal possibility he was 29 years old.
- Bieler, Stacey. Albrecht Durer: Artist in the Midst of Two Storms. Cascade Books, 2017. ISBN 978-1-5326-1965-6
- Brion, Marcel. Dürer. London: Thames and Hudson, 1960
- Hall, James. The Self-portrait: A Cultural History. London: Thames & Hudson, 2014. ISBN 978-0-5002-3910-0
- Porcu, Costantino (ed). Dürer. Rizzoli, Milano 2004
- Chipps Smith, Jeffrey; Silver, Larry (eds). The Essential Durer. University of Pennsylvania, 2011. ISBN 978-0-8122-2178-7