Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait (1498)

Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait, 1498, oil on panel, 52 x 41 cm (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid)

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Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:04] We’re in the Prado in Madrid, and we’re looking at Albrecht Dürer, “Self-Portrait” from 1498, where he shows himself, for me, almost like a dandy.

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:15] He painted this when he was 26, and that’s what the inscription says below the window. You can see that he’s proud of his looks and proud of his clothes, and mostly proud of how he could paint.

Dr. Zucker: [0:26] It’s so interesting because he is creating himself here, but he’s representing himself not only in terms of his likeness, not only in terms of the class that he’s aspiring to, not only in terms of his representation of his own aesthetics in terms of his choice of costume, but he’s representing himself as a painter as well, as a craftsman, as somebody who is extraordinarily capable.

[0:49] Yet at the same time, he’s also negating that very ability by rendering himself not in the guise of an artist, of a workman, but wearing actually incredibly expensive kid gloves and very much not in a workshop environment, but as if he were a nobleman.

Dr. Harris: [1:07] Right. I mean, it’s important to remember that when an artist paints a self-portrait, he’s probably looking in a mirror. He’s got paint, he’s got brushes in his hands. He’s in his studio, and he’s painting. There’s a real conscious decision to remove those things and to show himself in another way. The hands are completely fabricated.

Dr. Zucker: [1:28] Yet in some ways, this is still very much, for me, tied to his identity as an artist. I think he’s not only representing himself, but he’s representing his abilities, in a sense, a kind of portfolio piece.

Dr. Harris: [1:41] Laying claim to art as something that is intellectual.

Dr. Zucker: [1:45] Ah, see, that’s the key, right?

Dr. Harris: [1:47] Yeah.

Dr. Zucker: [1:47] This notion that painting is in fact, as you said, an intellectual activity, not just the work of a craftsman, of a cabinetmaker.

Dr. Harris: [1:55] Exactly. But something which happens in the artist’s mind, and therefore worthy of a different kind and level of respect. I think that’s very much here.

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Cite this page as: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait (1498)," in Smarthistory, November 18, 2015, accessed May 23, 2024,