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

Portrait of Jakob Muffel

Oil on canvas, transferred from panel, 48 x 36 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin


This painting was passed into a private Russian collection from the Schönborn collection in Pommersfelden, where it was in 1867. In 1870, in Saint Petersburg, it was transferred on canvas. In 1883, it was acquired in an auction from the Narischkin collection, in Paris, for the Berlin art gallery.

Like Hieronymus Holzschuher, Jakob Muffel (1471-1526) was one of the dignitaries of the city of Nuremberg and was a friend of Albrecht Dürer's and Willibald Pirckheimer's. He had been a councilor since 1502, and was the "Alter Bürgermeister" (Old Mayor) in 1514 as well as being one of the city's septemvirs. The goal in this portrait is not to idealize him but to produce a character portrait that was painted with the highest possible degree of naturalism. Details such as the fine wrinkles on his forehead, rosy flesh tones and subtle differentiation of the materials of his garments display a highly cultured style of painting.

Jakob Muffel died 26 April 1526; the portrait, dated 1526, must have been from the first months of that year. Even if its dimensions correspond roughly to those of the portraits Dürer executed in the Netherlands, it stands out from these for some particulars.

As in the Portrait of Hieronymus Holzschuher (also in Berlin), of the same year, Dürer brings the head close to the spectator, moving it upward at the same time. There is no sign whatsoever of any decoration or of representativeness. On the contrary, the artist dwells affectionately on the details of the physiognomy of the subjects. He retouches the pronounced nose of Jakob in the shape of a duck's beak and brings out the calm expression of the open face, with the high forehead edged by a simple black beret decorated with three golden ribbons: a personal and incisive way to expose the incorruptible virtue of his friend.