(b. 1477, Castelfranco, d. 1510, Venezia)

Self-Portrait as David

c. 1510
Oil on canvas, 52 x 43 cm
Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig

The still youthful man is wearing his hair shoulder-length. His chin is raised in truculent manner, his mouth energetically shut. We are met by a melancholy gaze emanating from softly shadowed eye-orbits and lightly reddened lids, its intensity stressed by the wrinkles of rage above the root of the nose. While the man's gaze is challenging, he turns his right shoulder towards us. Intensity and dismissive pride create thus a tense contradiction. Also under tension are the physicality and the illumination. Predominantly dark, the space into which hair, throat and chest disappear almost uncontoured does include a few bright spots, but these are very specific: the emotional focus of the duskily modelled face and, above the transitional beige and green of the garment, a brightly shining piece of metal on the shoulder. This man, then, is wearing martial armour. He is, as we have known since Giorgio Vasari's mid-16-century artist biographies, none other than the painter of the picture himself.

Giorgio da Castelfranco, known as Giorgione, has a prominent place in the artistic history of Venice, where he worked. Although there is little archive material to tell us much about him personally, he must, like Dürer, be seen as one of the most important innovators on the threshold of the modern age.

With his musically inspired, often mysterious painting, he built a bridge between the older art of the Bellini workshop and that of the young Titian. From Leonardo's pictures, he had learned a vibrant coloration of the painterly form (sfumato) which he creatively developed, and in addition, he is supposed to have been cultured, with an interest in music and poetry.

The Self-Portrait in Brunswick has been cropped, important parts which illuminate the mystery of the portrait character have been lost. However the original version can be reconstructed thanks to an etching by Wenzel Hollar dating from 1650, when Giorgione's picture was still entire. Originally, the sitter was holding the severed head of Goliath out in front of him on the balustrade that framed the picture at the bottom, adopted in other words the role of the biblical hero David.

Giorgione's Self-Portrait as David is the first allegorical artist self-portrait in the history of European art.