Dürer chose a vertical format for his self-portrait, depicting himself half-length and with two centres of attention: the face and hands.
The artist depicted himself inside a room with a window using a composition developed by Dirk Bouts in his Portrait of a Man of 1462 (The National Gallery, London), a work that would have considerable influence on later art both in Flanders and Italy.
The light falls from the left, illuminating the figure and the window-sill. The background remains in shadow and no direct light enters through the window.
Vertical lines impose over horizontal ones in this composition, from the severe arrangement of the window frame that provides the setting to the equally vertical format of the bust which leans firmly on the horizontal of the arm resting on the ledge. The result is to repeat the L-shape suggested by the window frame. Dürer depicts his face in three-quarters with his body in contrapposto.
Dürer executed his Self-portrait following his first trip to Italy (1494-1495). Experts assume that he painted it in the months of April and May 1498 when the ice was starting to thaw, as suggested by the wave on the lake in the background which recalls the watercolours painted by the artist on his return journey from Venice to Nuremberg in 1495.
Dürer uses same miniaturist technique in the portrait, the mountains, the transitions of light and shade and the subtle introduction of an occasional background figure.