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Dürer, Self-portrait (1500)

Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait, 1500 (Alte Pinakothek, Munich) Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker & Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(music) ("In The Sky With Diamonds" by Scalding Lucy) Steven: Two years after Durer finished his first painted self-portrait, he produced another in the year 1500. We're looking at it now in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. If you look on the left, you can see the 1500 painted in gold paint and just below that, a large A and a small D, his signature, his insignia. Beth: And it's really different from that earlier self-portrait. Steven: Oh, it's so different. In the early portrait, he is dressed up as if he's a court hearer and he seems to be trying to show what he can do as a painter, "Hire me. Look what I can do." Beth: Here he seems to liken himself to Christ. Steven: Well, he's rendered himself full frontal and that's a pose that's is almost always reserved for Christ. It's not the most flattering pose, but it is very powerful and very direct. Beth: This passivity, the emotionlessness of the face also remind me of images of Christ as a judge. Steven: But at the same time, there's also solemnity and a powerful sense of his creative potential. Durer was very much a humanist. He was like some of the great Italian artists. I'm thinking about Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, here's somebody who also is deeply interested in the way in which science and art work together. He was interested in philosophy. He was interested in ancient literature. He was very much a product of the Renaissance. Beth: And a writer as well as a painter. The idea of the artist that is born in the Renaissance no longer as a craftsman, just as someone who makes something with his hands, but someone who is a gifted intellect, a scholar. Steven: There is really a sense of seriousness, of purpose in this painting. This is a man who is bringing that northern interest in highly developed detail. It does not speak to a general, but renders the particularity of every element in the face. Beth: Right, so you can think of van Eyck, for example, or Campin, that northern tradition of paying attention to detail and clarity. Steven: At the same time, this is a man who's crossed the Alps, gone south, gone to Italy and studied what the Italians had achieved and is bringing that back north of the Alps. Beth: Durer was certainly one of the most important artists of the 16th century, the contemporary of Michaelangelo. He's a print maker, a painter ... Steven: And he's a theoretician. He's actually writing books to help other artists understand what the Renaissance has established. Beth: And he's also painting for the Holy Roman Emperor, he's painting for the King of Spain, Durer was as important as an artist could be in the 16th century. In the inscription on this painting, he wrote "Thus I, Albrecht Durer of Nuremberg, made an image of myself in appropriate colors in my 28th year." He's only 28 when he painted this. Steven: I'm interested in where he places the inscription. He places the inscription and the date and his insignia at eye level so that we would read across his eyes. Beth: Durer asks us to focus on his eyes and his hands, the tools of an artist. (music) ("In The Sky With Diamonds" by Scalding Lucy)