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

Portrait of Bernhard von Reesen

Oil on oak panel, 45,4 x 31,5 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

The man in the portrait holds a message on which the first few letters of his name can be read `P[or B]ernh', the rest being hidden by the fingers of his left hand. This is almost certainly the painting to which Dürer refers in his Antwerp diary in late March 1521, recording that he had `made a portrait of Bernhart von Resten in oils' for which he had been paid eight florins. Dürer's reference is probably to Bernhard von Reesen (1491-1521), a Danzig merchant whose family had important business links with Antwerp. His name suggests that his family originated from Rees, a town on the Lower Rhine 100 miles east of Antwerp.

Dürer's tight composition cuts off the two edges of Reesen's hat, emphasizing his brightly lit face. The dark clothing and hat also draw attention to his features - his pronounced cheekbones, forceful chin and youthful expression. His eyes stare out into the distance. Reesen, who was 30 when he was painted, died from the plague just a few months later in October 1521.

The well-preserved state allows for a full appreciation, from a formal point of view and a pictorial one, the mastery of the painter. He gives the thirty-year-old subject an intense physical and spiritual charm. This work further demonstrates the extraordinary span of Dürer's portraiture up until his final years.