Iconography. The Artist as “gentiluomo”
Dürer presents himself as an elegant, calm and self-assured man, offering a new way of understanding the social status of the painter far from the craft tradition to which he had been relegated up to this point. Now the painter is an intellectual and an artist in the Italian sense of the word, given that in Italy painting was considered one of the Liberal Arts.
Durer chose elegant, aristocratic clothes. He wears a white jacket with black trimming and an undershirt with gold lace edging, a black and white striped cap with a tassel, a greyish-brown cloak and grey kid gloves. This deliberately cosmopolitan image is reflected in his letters to his friend Willibald Pirckheimer, in one of which Dürer says, “My French cape greets you, as do my Italian clothes”.
Dürer’s restrained, calmly proud gaze indicates his desire to convey his social status. He has focused the eyes in two slightly different directions in order to enliven the figure’s gaze. His left eye, which is further away, looks directly out at the viewer while his nearer, right eye, looks into the distance. This slight disjunction was used by later portraitists including Hans Holbein the Younger.
The artist locates his clasped hands in the foreground, making it obvious that they are inactive and are not holding any symbolic element allusive to the function of the portrait. Rather, they convey the idea of the good manners appropriate to a gentleman. Rather than showing himself with the bare hands that he used to create his art, Dürer covers them with kid gloves, indicative of high social status. He thus calls for a different level of respect for his image, raised from that of artisan to artist, as in Italy.