Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by ALBRECHT DURER (German School)
DURER is one of the most estimable personalities in the pages of history. In
his own profession he has a seat among the immortals, and in his righteous
adherence to an exalted purpose, he was a superman. A self-portrait drawn
at the age of twelve leaves no doubt that he was the greatest child prodigy in
painting; he was famous at twenty, and at twenty-seven, completed his sixteen
designs for the Apocalypse,
the beginning of a long series of drawings and
engravings which, in his own lifetime, were pronounced by connoisseurs as
the work of “the greatest mind that ever expressed itself in line,” a verdict
posterity has not reversed.
As triumph succeeded triumph, and his fame trav
eled to Flanders and to Rome, he comported himself with nobility of bearing,
but with the unassumed modesty of his boyhood when, as one of eighteen
children, he was learning his father’s trade of goldsmith.
The warmth of his
nature shines out in every page of his letters from Venice and his diary of his
journey in the Netherlands; and when he was tempted by foreign principalities
with subsidies insuring him a life of pomp and luxury, he remained at
Nuremberg, where his position was analogous to that of Rubens at Antwerp
and Raphael at Rome.
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Durer was conscious of his personality and careful of his fame, as one who
foresaw immortality and the responsibilities of pre-eminence.
He was excited
to no vanity when he was called upon to demonstrate before Giovanni Bellini
that his miraculous painting of hair was done with ordinary brushes; and when
Raphael signified that it would be an honor to exchange drawings, his head
was not turned.
Of his craft and his humanity, he had no misgivings; but on
his intellectual side he was disturbed by the lofty generalities of Renaissance
thought, the inviting theories causing men of the arts and letters to plume
themselves as figures of the universe rather than creatures of place.
his early self-portraits, the most glorious of which is here reproduced, he visu
alized himself, not as a local craftsman, but in features and expression after
his own conception of Christ.
This was not an act of sacrilege or arrogance.
Durer was famous for the beauty of his person, and he created his own image
in the light of what he aspired to be; and his life was rigorously governed by
the spiritual rectitude and purity of conduct that he believed necessary to
the artist who planned his works as lasting reflections of the highest reaches
of the human spirit.