ALBRECHT DÜRER | SELF-PORTRAIT, PILLOWS ON VERSO | THE MET

Four on the Floor’s mission has never been to track art-world fads, or present the most Instagrammable paintings, or steer our readers towards those artists and shows that influencers have determined to be “on point”. Sometimes this happens, but it’s incidental. Four on the Floor is about great art, plain and simple; so when one of the greatest drawings in the history of Western art gets pulled from storage and put on display, it doesn’t matter that it’s 524 years old, or that it hasn’t received any press, or that it stands in a narrow corridor on the lower lever of the Robert Lehman annex, buried in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s farthest, darkest reaches.

Get thee uptown, dear friends, and feast your eyes on Albrecht Dürer’s Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (recto); Six Studies of Pillows (verso), from 1493. There are western self-portraits that pre-date this work, but they are usually sly. If we are to believe Vasari, for example, the sleeping soldier in Pierro della Francesca’s 1460 Annunciation is a self-portrait of the artist. There are other renaissance examples (van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait comes to mind) but there is something different about this drawing–something profound, too.

Behold the artist looking out at us, who once looked out at his creator, whose gaze flickered between a mirror and the page. This work is something like the moment of self-consciousness in western art. Whether or not it really was the first, it has come to mark the birth of modern art, and the modern myth of the artist, and Dürer has done so with pure virtuosity. This, as Joseph Koerner so beautifully notes, is more than just ‘the moment of self-portraiture in Northern Renaissance art’; it is also the moment when the stature and genius of the artist will come to define the works that he or she creates. It may be hard to imagine, but this is a socio-cultural condition that simply had not existed before.

Dürer sensed this, and moments of self-reflexivity abound. There is something telling, as Koerner also notes in his perfect book, about how close the fingers come to the eye, as if Dürer is meditating on the strange practice that he is inventing, and how the self-portraitist must traffic information between the eye and the hand so that, in this case, he can draw his eyes and his hand. Close up, and I encourage everyone to study to work firsthand at The Met, you can see the confidence of Dürer’s line–the quick, flicking hashes of the brow and lash, the sweeping curls of his long hair, or his stubbly goatee. I particularly love the three diverging lines that form the tips of his three fingers. Can we imagine a more perfect pinch?

A different kind of pinching takes place below, and on the reverse side. Six pillows fill the verso and one on the recto. It’s as if Dürer simply wants to demonstrate his unrivaled ability. Who else could take such a mundane and quotidian object and give it such an aliveness? But their perceived volume–flouncy and soft and wrinkled and infinitely unique–gives each pillow a character not unlike Dürer’s portrait. It’s a democratic gesture, one could say. To be true to anything, one must respect its character, its unique being in the world. Dürer wasn’t the first artist to recognize this in objects, but he was the first to recognize it in himself, and he spent a career glorifying his image and his persona.

This perfect piece of paper will be on display until January, so go see it, and then go see it again.

Four on the Floor #4

Albrecht Dürer | Tschabalala Self | Hayv Kahraman | Sarah Mehoyas

Albrecht Dürer, Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (recto); Six Studies of Pillows (verso), 1493, Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Albrecht Dürer, Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (recto); Six Studies of Pillows (verso), 1493, Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Albrecht Dürer, Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (recto); Six Studies of Pillows (verso), 1493, Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Albrecht Dürer, Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (recto); Six Studies of Pillows (verso), 1493, Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Albrecht Dürer, Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (recto); Six Studies of Pillows (verso), 1493, Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

ALBRECHT DÜRER | SELF-PORTRAIT, PILLOWS ON VERSO | THE MET

Four on the Floor’s mission has never been to track art-world fads, or present the most Instagrammable paintings, or steer our readers towards those artists and shows that influencers have determined to be “on point”. Sometimes this happens, but it’s incidental. Four on the Floor is about great art, plain and simple; so when one of the greatest drawings in the history of Western art gets pulled from storage and put on display, it doesn’t matter that it’s 524 years old, or that it hasn’t received any press, or that it stands in a narrow corridor on the lower lever of the Robert Lehman annex, buried in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s farthest, darkest reaches.

Albrecht Dürer, Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (recto); Six Studies of Pillows (verso), 1493, Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Get thee uptown, dear friends, and feast your eyes on Albrecht Dürer’s Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (recto); Six Studies of Pillows (verso), from 1493. There are western self-portraits that pre-date this work, but they are usually sly. If we are to believe Vasari, for example, the sleeping soldier in Pierro della Francesca’s 1460 Annunciation is a self-portrait of the artist. There are other renaissance examples (van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait comes to mind) but there is something different about this drawing–something profound, too.

Behold the artist looking out at us, who once looked out at his creator, whose gaze flickered between a mirror and the page. This work is something like the moment of self-consciousness in western art. Whether or not it really was the first, it has come to mark the birth of modern art, and the modern myth of the artist, and Dürer has done so with pure virtuosity. This, as Joseph Koerner so beautifully notes, is more than just ‘the moment of self-portraiture in Northern Renaissance art’; it is also the moment when the stature and genius of the artist will come to define the works that he or she creates. It may be hard to imagine, but this is a socio-cultural condition that simply had not existed before.

Albrecht Dürer, Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (recto); Six Studies of Pillows (verso), 1493, Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Dürer sensed this, and moments of self-reflexivity abound. There is something telling, as Koerner also notes in his perfect book, about how close the fingers come to the eye, as if Dürer is meditating on the strange practice that he is inventing, and how the self-portraitist must traffic information between the eye and the hand so that, in this case, he can draw his eyes and his hand. Close up, and I encourage everyone to study to work firsthand at The Met, you can see the confidence of Dürer’s line–the quick, flicking hashes of the brow and lash, the sweeping curls of his long hair, or his stubbly goatee. I particularly love the three diverging lines that form the tips of his three fingers. Can we imagine a more perfect pinch?

A different kind of pinching takes place below, and on the reverse side. Six pillows fill the verso and one on the recto. It’s as if Dürer simply wants to demonstrate his unrivaled ability. Who else could take such a mundane and quotidian object and give it such an aliveness? But their perceived volume–flouncy and soft and wrinkled and infinitely unique–gives each pillow a character not unlike Dürer’s portrait. It’s a democratic gesture, one could say. To be true to anything, one must respect its character, its unique being in the world. Dürer wasn’t the first artist to recognize this in objects, but he was the first to recognize it in himself, and he spent a career glorifying his image and his persona.

This perfect piece of paper will be on display until January, so go see it, and then go see it again.

Four on the Floor #4

Albrecht Dürer | Tschabalala Self | Hayv Kahraman | Sarah Mehoyas

Albrecht Dürer, Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (recto); Six Studies of Pillows (verso), 1493, Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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