Albrecht Dürer (21 May 1471 – 6 April 1528) was a German painter, printmaker, engraver, mathematician, and theorist from Nuremberg. His prints established his reputation across Europe when he was still in his twenties, and he has been conventionally regarded as the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance ever since. His vast body of work includes altarpieces and religious works, numerous portraits and self-portraits, and copper engravings. His woodcuts, such as the Apocalypse series (1498), retain a more Gothic flavour than the rest of his work. His well-known works include the Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513), Saint Jerome in his Study (1514) and Melencolia I (1514), which has been the subject of extensive analysis and interpretation. His watercolours mark him as one of the first European landscape artist, while his ambitious woodcuts revolutionized the potential of that medium.
Dürer’s introduction of classical motifs into Northern art, through his knowledge of Italian artists and German humanists, has secured his reputation as one of the most important figures of the Northern Renaissance. This is reinforced by his theoretical treatises, which involve principles of mathematics, perspective and ideal proportions.
Art historian Marcel Brion believes this self-portrait marks a farewell to his irresponsible youth, the acclaim he received during his visit to Italy and his general apprehension as the 15th century came to an end and dark clouds hung over the Germanic states. The middleground of the pleasing flat plain and lake may represent his travels from 1492 to 1497, yet they are shadowed by steep mountainous glaciers; forebodings of what lay in store. In this Brion interprets the artist’s state as looking toward his future and past. Dürer’s youthful character was enthusiastic, adventurous and inhibited, and after he left his hometown of Nuremberg in 1490 to travel as journeyman painter he was able to live his early youth with abandon and almost without consequence. By the time this portrait was painted he was back home, and old enough to begin to accept responsibilities.