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

Portrait of Michael Wolgemut

Oil and tempera on lindenwood, 29 x 27 cm
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

After he had achieved great fame, Dürer depicted the master who had taught him to paint. On it he inscribed: `This portrait was done by Albrecht Dürer of his teacher, Michael Wolgemut, in 1516', to which he later added, `and he was 82 years old, and he lived until 1519, when he departed this life on St Andrew's Day morning before sunrise.' It is unclear from the inscription whether Wolgemut was 82 when he died or when the portrait had been painted three years earlier.

Michael Wolgemut (1434/7-1519) had one of the largest artist's workshops in Germany. Dürer had served his apprenticeship there from 1486 until 1489 and Wolgemut must have been proud to have witnessed his former pupil's rapid success. In Dürer's portrait, everything is focused on the head, set against a neutral green background. The old man's features are not disguised, from his sunken eyes and gaunt cheeks to the loose skin around his neck. Wolgemut wears a fur-lined coat and a simple hat or scarf, perhaps the headgear he would have worn in his workshop to keep off the dust. His eyes are still alert and he has a thoughtful expression. Dürer does not depict a pitiable man, but marvels at his indomitable spirit.