DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)

Portrait of Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony

Tempera on canvas, 76 x 57 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Frederick III (1463-1525), known as Frederick the Wise, had became Elector of Saxony in 1486 and was one of the princes entitled to select the Holy Roman Emperor. He later became Dürer's first major patron. This portrait was probably done when Frederick the Wise visited Nuremberg from 14-18 April 1496. Dürer used quick-drying tempera paint, rather than oil paint, and this may have been so that the picture could be taken away. Frederick the Wise, then 33, is depicted from the waist up, elegantly dressed and set against a light-green background. His folded arms rest on a ledge and in his left hand he holds a small scroll. The monarch's slight frown is probably intended to convey fortitude. The most striking aspect of the portrait are Frederick's piercing eyes, staring straight at the viewer.

Frederick the Wise must have been pleased with this portrait as Dürer was then commissioned to paint a series of important altarpieces for the church at the Elector's palace in Wittenberg. Dürer sketched Frederick the Wise 27 years later as an elderly statesman and the following year the drawing was used for an engraving.