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

Portrait of Frederick the Wise

Engraving, 188 x 122 mm
Art Institute, Chicago

Frederick III, called the Wise, Elector of the Empire and Duke of Saxony (1463-1525), was a patron of art and science, the founder of the University of Wittenberg and a supporter of the Reformation, although he never openly espoused the doctrines of Martin Luther. He could easily have been elected Emperor but wisely declined the honour. One of the earliest patrons of Dürer, he commissioned a portrait (in 1496) and many other works. The inscription beneath this engraved portrait reads: "Sacred to Christ. He favoured the word of God with piety, worthy to be revered by posterity forever. Albrecht Dürer made this for the Duke Frederick of Saxony, Arch-Marshal, Elector of the Holy Roman Empire; B[ene] M[erenti] F[ecit] V[ivus] V[ivo], MDXXIIII." (The phrase connotes: "worthy of high praise even while still alive.")

The engraving is based on a preparatory drawing, probably prepared during Frederick's stay at Nuremberg from November 1522 to February 1523. It could be pointed out that Dürer must have had a remarkable memory in order to add so much form and detail in the engraving that does not appear in the sketch from life, particularly the details of the eyes, the higher eyebrows and the revision of the cap. The portrait shows the fat but somehow tragic face of Frederick the Wise, one year before his death, in three-quarter profile, in contrast to the strict profile of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg.