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

Self-Portrait in a Fur-Collared Robe

Oil on lime panel, 67,1 x 48,7 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

The last of Dürer's three magnificent self-portraits was painted early in 1500, before his 29th birthday on 21 May. The picture is proudly inscribed: `Thus I, Albrecht Dürer from Nuremburg, painted myself with indelible colours at the age of 28 years.' It is a sombre image, painted primarily in browns, set against a plain dark background.

The face is striking for its resemblance to the head of Christ. In late medieval art, Jesus was traditionally presented in this manner, looking straight ahead in a symmetrical pose. Christ's brown hair in these images is parted towards the middle and falls over the shoulders. For the first and last time in Western art history, an artist was to portray himself in a Christ-like scheme. Given his idealized appearance as the underdrawing shows, his nose was originally irregular in shape - Dürer is approaching us in "imitatio Christi", in imitation of Christ. He has a short beard and moustache. Dürer has even painted himself with brown hair, although the other self-portraits show that it was actually reddish-blond. Dürer deliberately set out to create a Christ-like image, with his hand raised to his chest almost in a pose of blessing. But this was no gesture of arrogance or blasphemy. It was a statement of faith: Christ was the son of God and God had created Man. For Dürer, the painting was an acknowledgment that artistic skills were a God-given talent.

However, Dürer has subtly departed from the traditional image of Christ in his self-portrait. Despite initial appearances, the picture is not quite symmetrical. The head lies just off the centre of the panel to the right and the parting of the hair is not exactly in the middle, with the strands of hair falling a little differently on the two sides. The eyes stare slightly towards the left of the panel. Dürer also wears contemporary clothing, a fashionable fur-lined mantle. The result is a highly personal image, one whose `indelible colours' still influence the way we imagine Dürer looked in his later years.

The deceptive illusionism in which the picture is painted is also, however, a reference to the classical artistic legend about Apelles, with whom he had been compared by contemporary humanists.