Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (recto); Six Studies of Pillows (verso)
In this extraordinary series of studies, Albrecht Durer has captured his own image and that of several pillows on the sheet’s front and back with incomparable brilliance, achieving at a tender age a calligraphic precision and expressiveness of line of unexcelled clarity. The self-portrait - of which the head was drawn using a mirror and the hand directly from the model - occupies an important place in the artist’s series of self-characterizations. It is generally agreed that it relates and perhaps was preparatory to a painted self-portrait of the same year, 1493, now in the Louvre in Paris. The painting probably served as an engagement or courting portrait for the young suitor.As an example of the young draftsman’s awakening sense of himself as an artist, and as a signal of his growing awareness of the interplay of subject and viewer - the sitter and creator as one - this drawing stands as one of the most important early visual documents of the modern era. On the sheet’s verso, he has penned the changing forms of this single object in three vertical pairs. Much has been made of the human facial features which seem to emerge from the lumps and folds of the drapery.
Albrecht Dürer (German, Nuremberg 1471–1528 Nuremberg)
Albrecht Dürer, whose work was admired and influential throughout Europe, was born in Nuremberg on 21 May 1471. His first training was as a goldsmith in his father's shop. In 1486 Dürer became an apprentice in the workshop of the painter Michael Wolgemut where he would remain for almost four years. Toward the end of his apprenticeship, he produced his first dated painting, the portrait of his father Albrecht Dürer the Elder of 1490. Same year Dürer departed Nuremberg for a four-year trip. The trip included the Netherlands, Cologne, and parts of Austria and Switzerland. Returning to Nuremberg in late May of 1494 Dürer married but forced to leave again due to an outbreak of plague in Nuremberg in August of 1494. Dürer traveled across the Alps to Venice, by way of Augsburg, Innsbruck, the Brenner pass, the Eisack valley and Trent. His Venice stay, which lasted until spring of 1495. Dürer became acquainted with artists such as Gentile and Giovanni Bellini and absorbed, often by copying, the work of Andrea Mantegna, Antonio Pollaiuolo, and Lorenzo di Credi. His awareness of and lifelong interest in the theory of human proportions also began in Venice, quite possible because of Jacopo de' Barbari. Upon his return to Nuremberg in 1495, Dürer embarked upon a career as printmaker and painter. The woodcut series, the Apocalypse, published in 1498, by reason of its innovative format, technical mastery, and the forcefulness of its imagery, made Dürer famous throughout Europe. In the summer of 1505, the plague reappeared in Nuremberg and Dürer again set out for Venice. This time, however, he arrived as a well-known artist with a reputation based on his woodcuts and engravings. From Venice Dürer apparently went to the university city of Bologna to learn about perspective and then journeyed further south to Florence, where he saw the work of Leonardo da Vinci and the young Raphael, and to Rome. Except for a few short journeys, Dürer remained in Nuremberg from 1507 until 1520. Dürer attracted the attention of Emperor Maximilian I who had visited Nuremberg in February 1512 and gave Dürer several commissions, including the marginal drawings for his prayerbook. The three so-called "Master Engravings": Knight, Death, and the Devil, of 1513, Saint Jerome in his Study, and Melancholia I both of 1514, raised the engraving technique to new heights and reflect Dürer's ongoing assimilation of Italian art and theory, and in the case of Melancholia I, Neoplatonic philosophy. In his last years, Dürer became increasingly involved in his theoretical writings. His last and most important treatise, Four Books on Human Proportion, was published posthumously on 31 October 1528. A number of painted and engraved portraits were produced in these years, but the major work is the Four Apostles, dated 1526, that was presented to the city council in Nuremberg. The Apostles John the Evangelist, Peter and Paul and the Evangelist Mark are accompanied by inscriptions warning against false prophets.