Portrait of the Artist Holding a Thistle

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Portrait of the Artist Holding a Thistle
ArtistAlbrecht Dürer
TypeOil on vellum (transferred to canvas ca. 1840)
Dimensions56.5 cm × 44.5 cm (22.2 in × 17.5 in)
LocationLouvre, Paris

Portrait of the Artist Holding a Thistle (or Eryngium) is an oil painting on parchment pasted on canvas by German artist Albrecht Dürer. Painted in 1493, it is the earliest of Dürer's painted self-portraits and has been identified as one of the first self-portraits painted by a Northern artist.[1] It was acquired in 1922 by the Louvre in Paris.[2]

Dürer looks out at the viewer with a psychologically complex but rather melancholy and reserved, serious minded, facial expression. During the 15th century, thistles were symbols of male conjugal fidelity.[3]


In 1493, Dürer was 22 years old and working in Strasbourg. He had completed his apprenticeship with Michael Wolgemut and his tour as a journeyman, and would marry Agnes Frey on 7 July 1494.[4]

The date and the plant in the artist's hand seem to suggest that this is a betrothal portrait (Brautporträt). Dürer has in fact depicted himself in the act of offering a flowering spray identified by botanists as eryngium amethystinum: its German name is "Mannestreue", meaning conjugal fidelity. Resembling the thistle (from which the portrait's title), this umbelliferous plant is used in medicine, and is regarded as an aphrodisiac.[5] It may also have religious significance; the same plant in outline form is inscribed in the gold ground of Dürer's painting Christ as the Man of Sorrows (1493–94).[4]

Dürer was temperamentally inclined to philosophical doubts. He often analysed his own face in drawn or painted effigies – sometimes idealizing it, sometimes not. The lines written beside the date in this painting reveal the philosophical and Christian intention of the work:

Myj sach die gat
Als es oben schtat.

In other words (and liberally): My affairs follow the course allotted to them on high. Marriage has in part determined his destiny – the Bridegroom puts his future life in the hands of God.[6]

In 1805, Goethe saw a copy of this portrait in the museum at Leipzig and described it as of "inestimable value."[7] According to Lawrence Gowing, who calls this "the most French of all his pictures", the Portrait of the Artist Holding a Thistle is singular among Dürer's paintings as "the touch is freer and color more iridescent than in any other picture one remembers".[2]


  1. ^ Fenyő, Iván (1956). Albrecht Dürer. Budapest: Corvina. p. 16.
  2. ^ a b Gowing (1987), p. 164
  3. ^ Brion (1960), p. 127
  4. ^ a b Wolf (2006), p. 28.
  5. ^ Botanical herbal note on the eryngium, on Botanical.com. Accessed 13 January 2012
  6. ^ J.L. Koerner, The Moment of Self-portraiture in German Renaissance Art, University of Chicago Press (1997).
  7. ^ H. von Einem, Goethe und Dürer - Goethes Kunstphilosophie, Hamburg: von Schröder (1947).


  • Brion, Marcel. Dürer. London: Thames and Hudson, 1960.
  • Gowing, Lawrence. Paintings in the Louvre. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1987. ISBN 1-55670-007-5
  • Wolf, Norbert. Albrecht Dürer. Prestel, 2010. ISBN 978-3-7913-4426-3

Further reading[edit]

  • Bailey, Martin. Dürer. London: Phaidon Press, 1995. ISBN 0-7148-3334-7
  • Bartrum, Giulia. Albrecht Dürer and his Legacy. British Museum Press, 2002. ISBN 0-7141-2633-0
  • Campbell Hutchison, Jane. Albrecht Dürer: A Biography. Princeton University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-691-00297-5
  • Eser, Thomas. "Dürers Selbstbildnisse als 'Probstücke'. Eine pragmatische Deutung". In: Menschenbilder. Beiträge zur Altdeutschen Kunst, ed. by Andreas Tacke and Stefan Heinz, Petersberg 2011, p. 159–176
  • Panofsky, Erwin. "The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer", Princeton, 1945. ISBN 0-691-00303-3
  • Schauerte, Thomas. "Dürer. Das ferne Genie. Eine Biografie". Stuttgart: Reclam, 2012.
  • Schmidt, Sebastian: "„dan sӳ machten dy vürtrefflichen künstner reich“. Zur ursprünglichen Bestimmung von Albrecht Dürers Selbstbildnis im Pelzrock". In: Anzeiger des Germanischen Nationalmuseums 2010, p. 65–82.

External links[edit]