Looking at the Self Portrait at the Age of Twenty Eight by Albrecht Durer is very much like stepping back into another time when the Old Masters of the Renaissance quite probably locked themselves into their garrets and were so immersed in channeling their genius that they forgot to eat.
Durer's portrayed visage is anachronistic, belonging to a different era with its direct gaze and unusually long but generous features. The textures of long wavy hair and dark cloak lend a richness to the self portrait, adding to the perception that it must somehow be quite substantial in weight. This is also in part due to the fact that the original was painted in oil on a wooden block after which prints were subsequently reproduced on canvas. That same richness that is conveyed in his 1500 A.D. Self Portrait can also be seen in many of his other works of religious inspiration. His phenomenal craftsmanship as an engraver established him as a force majeure within the world of Renaissance art along with Da Vinci, Raphael, Boticelli, Bellini, Bosch, Perugino and Gerard David.
His woodcut engravings show exquisite detail on blocks of wood that measure scarcely one square foot and depict the climactic and often highly dramatic religious events surrounding Adam and Eve and the life of Christ. He also offered a vast array of alternately styled, more serene and gentle woodcut engravings with such series as "The Holy Family" engravings and a glimpse of social commentary with his "Ship of Fools" series. Going back to his self portrait, when compared to those of some of his contemporaries there is a definite sense of mass and substance. The self portraits of Raphael feature a three-quarter face, rather than the full face that is featured in Durer's self portrait.
This inexplicably lends to a feeling of comparable lightness. In addition his choice of colors and lighting within the painting seem to indicate a preference for radiance rather than the deep richness and spectacular detail of Durer. We can also witness this in the softly diffused lighting that was used in many of Raphael's paintings that lent them a vibrancy in color. When intently studying the self portrait of Durer it also becomes apparent that the background is not, if barely, illuminated and the shadow, while falling on logical areas of the subject seem to mysteriously escape the same logic when it comes to the background! Leonardo Da Vinci appeared to embrace the three quarter face self portrait style that was popular for that time although his gaze was also very direct and turned toward the viewer. His self portraits, even those of later years also employed the use of a more soft and diffused lighting while omitting no detail that this type of lighting may generally blur.
In reality his later self portraits captured every line, every fold and pore--the earlier ones interestingly tending to show much more the right side of his profile, as if to perhaps, allow himself that one preference. While Da Vinci's library of work quite possibly saw him use a multitude of different levels of lighting and painting styles to achieve many different levels of richness and scope there can be witnessed in his many different works the use of crisp lines that served his paintings and other works beautifully. As with Da Vinci and his fellow masters, Albrecht Durer's Self Portrait and other brilliant works helped to preserve a glorious time in the history of art, The Renaissance.
Tom Gurney in an art history expert. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Salford University, UK, and has also studied famous artists and art movements for over 20 years. Tom has also published a number of books related to art history and continues to contribute to a number of different art websites. You can read more on Tom Gurney here.