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

Willibald Pirckheimer

Engraving, 181 x 115 mm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The celebrated humanist Willibald Pirckheimer, counselor to the Emperor, friend of Erasmus of Rotterdam, member of the Nuremberg city council, translator of Greek and Latin classics, commander of the Nuremberg contingent of troops in the Swiss War, was Albrecht Dürer's closest friend and mentor. Suffering from severe gout, Pirckheimer had retired from the city council shortly before Dürer engraved this portrait.

The copper plate portrait is an example of the new portraits he created using printed graphics. The bust is placed, like a monument, above an inscription that reads like an epitaph. It refers to the contributions and character of Pirckheimer, and the inscription beneath the portrait reads: "Image of Willibald Pirckheimer at age 53. Man lives through his intellect; all else will belong to death. 1524" (based on Livy III, 36).

In this likeness, too, Dürer could not resist the temptation to show the reflection of windows in the eyes. The magnificent bulldog head of Dürer's best friend is not so much embellished as transfigured. Mass is converted into energy, and the heavy features of the learned irascible giant appear illumined, as it were, by the enormous eyes which flare from their sockets like powerful searchlights. This engraving was used as a bookplate by Pirckheimer. Many volumes containing it, formerly in the possession of the Royal Society, were sold at auction in London in 1925. Until 1945 there was an impression on white satin, probably posthumous, at Bremen.