Self-Portrait at the Age of 13

Self-Portrait at the age of 13 is a silverpoint drawing by Albrecht Dürer, dated 1484. It is now in the Albertina museum, Vienna. It is the artist's oldest known drawing, and one of the oldest extant self-portraits in European art. It was completed two years before Albrecht left his father's apprenticeship to study under Michael Wolgemut, whom he quickly realised was a valuable mentor but whom the younger man also recognized to be unequal to himself in his abilities.[1]

Albrecht Dürer's 1484 self-portrait. Albertina, Vienna, 27.5 x 19.6 cm

Throughout his life Dürer expressed resolute self-confidence. He celebrated himself in his drawings and writings.[2] His four known self-portraits were all completed before he entered his 30s, and so they predate his mature period. As the other three self-portraits, which are oil paintings, this work can be interpreted as having recorded Dürer's awareness of, and confidence in, his great-yet-still-developing artistic powers. This tone is especially evident in the subject's precocious countenance.[3] Dürer presents himself in half-length and in side view, in a pose closely resembling the one seen in a surviving portrait attributed to his father, also Albrecht, who was a goldsmith by profession.[2]

The artist's left arm is raised, while his index finger, in a gesture seen many times in depictions of Christ, boldly points to an unidentified area outside the picture’s frame. Dürer presents himself in a flattering light: He has long hair, he has the pleasing appearance of a fresh-faced boy, and he has elegant and elongated fingers (at the time, this was a characteristic both fashionable and seen to indicate draftsman skills).[2] Dürer wrote in 1528, in reference to his relatively unsophisticated youthful drawings, that even his simple sketches expressed "the spiritual essence of an artist's creative impulse"—since a talented artist could express more in a simple line-drawing than a mediocre artist could express in a year of painting.[4]

It is said that the self-portrait was set as a task by Albrecht the Elder as a challenge for his son.[5] 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".[6] Dürer was born in May 1471, and he himself did not title the work; given that it was completed in 1484, it is almost equally as likely Dürer had created it when he had been 12 years old, even though the self-portrait is commonly known by the "at the age of 13" title.[3][7]

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Bieler (2017), p. 21
  2. ^ a b c Hall (2014), p. 91
  3. ^ a b Hall (2014), p. 90
  4. ^ Chipps Smith; Sliver, p. 16
  5. ^ Hall (2014), p. 92
  6. ^ Bieler (2017), p. 17
  7. ^ The same is true of his Self-Portrait at 28, which he similarly did not title. The autograph dates the painting as having been completed in 1500, which leaves open an almost-equal probability that at the time when his work on the portrait had been finished, he was 29 years old.

BibliographyEdit

  • 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