Self-Portrait with Fur Collar by Albrecht Durer
Interpretation of Northern Renaissance Oil Painting

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Self-Portrait with Fur Collar
By Albrecht Durer.
Considered to be one of the
Greatest Portrait Paintings
of the Northern School.

Self-Portrait with Fur Collar (1500)


Interpretation of Renaissance Portraits


Name: "Self-Portrait with Fur Collar"
Date: 1500
Artist: Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)
Medium: Oil painting
Genre: Self Portraiture
Movement: German Renaissance art
Location: Alte Pinakothek, Munich

For analysis and explanation of other important pictures from the Renaissance, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).

For analysis of self-portraits
by Northern Renaissance
painters like Durer, see
our educational articles:
Art Evaluation and
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Analysis of Self-Portrait with Fur Collar by Albrecht Durer

One of the pioneering self-portraits of the Northern Renaissance, Self-Portrait with Fur Collar is a panel painting created by the Nuremberg artist Albrecht Durer (1471-1528). A child prodigy in drawing, Durer's outstanding abilities in printmaking as well as painting - along with his immense versatility and curiosity - enabled him to combine the detailed realism of Netherlandish Renaissance art with the disegno and the rules of beauty propagated by the Florentine Renaissance (1400-1500). His visits to Italy not only made him the first Northerner to learn about Renaissance art on its native soil, it also made him envious of the exalted status enjoyed by the top Italian artists, and determined to achieve a similar position for himself. Furthermore, while he continued to hone his skill at woodcuts and engraving, and further his grasp of illustration and altarpiece art, he also studied languages and mathematics, wrote poetry as well as a treatise on the theory of art. He also published books on geometry and the theory of human proportions.

NOTE: For other humanist works that reveal Durer's affinity for the Florentine Renaissance, see his watercolours: A Young Hare (1502), and Great Piece of Turf (1503) (both in the Albertina, Vienna).

Self-Portrait with Fur Collar is above all a personal statement by Durer. First, he wants to show that German traditions of painting can compete with the Italian Renaissance. (See also German Medieval art.) Choosing the genre of portrait art allowed him to show off his exceptional observational skills as well as his technical prowess at depicting textures (hair, beard, fur), eyes and hands. It also allows him to indulge his delight in mystical symbolism: - see, for instance, his initials AD, which are given added significance by being placed next to the date 1500, in imitation of the abbreviation "Anno Domini". When he painted this work, Durer was 28 years old: and during the medieval era this age traditionally marked the transition from youth to maturity. The portrait therefore marks a key point in the artist's life, as well as the start of a new millennium.

Second, the monumental nature of the painting is Durer's way of saying that he wished to be considered a Renaissance artist, rather than a more lowly Northern European craftsman. He does this by deliberately creating a strong resemblance between himself and Christ. He is not being blasphemous. More likely, he is either trying to show that his creative ability (fingering the marten fur with his right hand implies that he owes his standing to his skill with his marten paintbrush) is God-given; or, he is demonstrating his humanism by placing a man (albeit one who resembles Christ) at the centre of things.

NOTE: For other Northern Renaissance artists noted for their portraiture and self-portraiture, see: Jan van Eyck (1390-1441), Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543), Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553).



It is possible that Durer tried to transform his self-portrait into a work of religious art in order to elevate the debate about the status of artists (including himself) onto a higher plane. Religious paintings after all command extra respect in the spectator. Here, the frontal pose and the position of the hands (as though giving a blessing), are clearly reminiscent of the icon painting known as Christ Pantokrator (6th century, Monastery of Saint Catherine, Mount Sinai, Egypt), while the bearded face, the long hair and the stare, all recall pictures of Christ.

Self-Portrait with Fur Collar is the last of his three painted self-portraits. The other two are Portrait of the Artist Holding a Thistle (1493, Louvre, Paris), and Self-Portrait with Gloves (1498, Prado museum, Madrid), both of which focus on his youthful looks, hairstyle and fashionable clothing. The Pinakothek portrait is more serious, even sombre, and introduces a new introverted note. In addition to his painted self-portraits, Durer produced about ten self-portrait drawings and one gouache portrait (now lost).

Interpretation of Renaissance Portraits

For an analysis of some of the greatest portrait paintings of the 15th and 16th centuries, see the following articles:

Portrait of a Young Girl (1470) Gemaldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
By Petrus Christus.

Old Man with a Young Boy (1490) Louvre, Paris.
By Domenico Ghirlandaio.

Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan (1502) National Gallery, London.
By Giovanni Bellini.

Lady with an Ermine (1490) Czartoryski Museum, Krakow.
By Leonardo da Vinci.

Mona Lisa (1503-06) Louvre, Paris.
By Leonardo da Vinci.

Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (1514-15) Louvre, Paris.
By Raphael.


• For the meaning of other German Renaissance portraits, see: Homepage.

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