Portrait of the Artist Holding a Thistle

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Portrait of the Artist Holding a Thistle
Artist Albrecht Dürer
Year 1493
Type Oil on vellum (transferred to canvas ca. 1840)
Dimensions 56.5 cm × 44.5 cm (22.2 in × 17.5 in)
Location Louvre, 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 is currently held and exhibited at the Louvre in Paris.


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.[2] 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).[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.[3]

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.[4]

In 1805, Goethe saw a copy of this portrait in the museum at Leipzig and wrote of it:

I thought Albrecht Dürer's self-portrait, dated 1493, to be of inestimable value.[5]

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".[6]

The painting was purchased by the Louvre in 1922.[6]


  1. ^ Fenyő, Iván (1956). Albrecht Dürer. Budapest: Corvina. p. 16.
  2. ^ Botanical herbal note on the eryngium, on Botanical.com. Accessed 13 January 2012
  3. ^ a b Wolf, Norbert (2006). Albrecht Dürer. Köln: Taschen. p. 28.
  4. ^ J.L. Koerner, The Moment of Self-portraiture in German Renaissance Art, University of Chicago Press (1997).
  5. ^ H. von Einem, Goethe und Dürer - Goethes Kunstphilosophie, Hamburg: von Schröder (1947).
  6. ^ a b Gowing, Lawrence (1987). Paintings in the Louvre New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang. p. 164. ISBN 1-55670-007-5


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