Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




Thus God Created Man in His Image

The first artist self-portrait



For just as the ancients gave their idol Apollo the most beautiful of human forms, so do we desire to use the proportions for Christ the Lord, who is the most beautiful thing in the world.

Albrecht Durer, Treatise on Human Proportions, 1528



Dimensions and figures: geometric diagrams showing proportions for heads and faces by Villard de Honnecourt


In the Middle Ages a painter was "just" an artisan. He enjoyed the same status as stonemasons and woodcarvers, not to mention bakers, tanners, basket weavers and cobblers. Painters were used to "disappearing" behind what they painted. They usually did not even sign their work and most were soon forgotten. Then a man appeared who was possessed of supreme self-confidence: Albrecht Durer. Born in the free imperial city of Nuremberg in Germany, he was equally superb as a painter, a draughtsman and a woodcarver, a universal genius of the Renaissance on a par with Leonardo da Vinci. An inventive and bold thinker, Durer was open to the Humanist currents of his day. Well aware that he was original, talented and free, he refused to be merely an anonymous instrument of divine inspiration. He saw himself as an artist who pursued his own artistic aims, and had the courage to show his own face and personality in his work. It is true that a number of artists had already painted portraits of themselves as penitents or by-standers. Albrecht Durer had no use for compromises. He took the self-portrait one step further and portrayed himself as he really was, thus creating the genre of artist self-portraits. Five earlier Durer self-portraits are known but the present one in which the artist is wearing a fur coat is the most momentous. Durer had never before portrayed himself in such an uncompromisingly frontal pose. The manner of self-representation he chose for this work had, until then, been reserved for depictions of Christ or royalty. Making himself look like Christ in this work was a deliberate statement of intention and supports Durer s firm belief that artists' creativity derived directly from God's creative powers. In 1512 he wrote: "The high art of painting was greatly appreciated for many centuries by mighty kings. They made outstanding artists rich and bestowed many honours upon them since they knew that great masters are on a level with God. A good painter is full of figures and forms and if it were possible for him to live for ever, he would always bring forth something new."

Self-Portrait in a Fur Coat, built on a pyramidical arrangement of planes, remained in Durers possession during his lifetime. Posterity views it as his monument to his idea of what an artist really is. In translation, the Latin inscription reads: "Thus I, Albrecht Durer of Nuremberg, painted myself in my own colours at the age of twenty-eight."


Albrecht Durer
Self-Portrait in a Fur-Collared Robe
Alte Pinakothek, Munich


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