CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


Reflections on “Autonomy” in Early German Self-Portraiture: Revisiting Albrecht Dürer’s 1493 Louvre Portrait

Session 5 Self-Awareness or Self-Affirmation

Northwestern University


Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) produced a remarkable number of self-portraits. There are three self-portraits in oil – that is, the 1493 panel in the Louvre, the 1498 panel in the Prado Museum, and the 1500 panel in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.  In the history of reception of Dürer’s three self-portraits in paint, the 1498 panel was considered to be the first “independent” self-portrait signaling the emergence of self-portraiture as a genre, because it was “painted without any ulterior purpose.”  In contrast, the 1493 panel was considered as “the earliest” but not as significant as the 1498 and 1500 “magnum opuses” of the artist’s.  The story of the 1493 Louvre portrait as an engagement portrait, as so often in German intellectual history, begins with Goethe.  In the early twentieth century, some scholars attempted to rediscover the “autonomy” of the 1493 Louvre portrait in order to improve its art-historical position.  In 2002, a new interpretation argues that the 1493 self-portrait is the first “independent” self-portrait.  So far, biographical readings have endowed all the three portraits in paint with epochal significance based on the principle of “autonomy.” However, an issue yet to be clarified is that, in which sense and to which extent the concept of “autonomy” can be appropriated to argue for the significance of the 1493 Louvre portrait?  In this paper, the analysis of the 1493 portrait focuses primarily on the means of representation, which derived from and yet also goes beyond the question of intention.  By comparing this portrait with an engagement portrait that Dürer made for his male patron around the same time and a serious of traditional German engagement portraits in the fifteenth century, this paper investigates the possible audiences and functions of the 1493 Louvre portrait.


After experimenting with Chinese classical and modern literature ever since her college life at Beijing Normal University and graduate life at Fudan University, Xiao YANG finally settled down in the Ph.D. program in the Department of Art History at Northwestern University (Evanston, U.S.A.).  Currently she is a Ph.D. Candidate, writing her dissertation on the interrelations between Chinese nationalism, transnationalism and the formation of “modern Chinese painting” in the twentieth century.  Besides, Xiao’s multiple research interests are reflected by her interdisciplinary publications, the subjects of which range from “Taking Art as Skillful Means, Painting for a Republic of New Citizens: Feng Zikai’s Buddhist-Inflected Impromptu Sketches (1920s-1940s)”(Wenyi Yanjiu [Literature and Art Studies], Vol. 2, 2014), “The Dead, the Eternal: Images of Crucifixion on Mount Sinai” (Haiguo tuzhi [Illustrated Gazetteer of the Countries Overseas], Vol. 6, 2011), “Zhu Guangqian’s Translation of Giambattista Vico in China: A Symptom” (Dangdai wentan [Contemporary Cultural Forum], Vol. 5, 2008), to “Kaleidoscopic Changes Are Not Able to Get Out of the Ideological Net: Transformation of the Image of ‘Tiger Girl’ from Laoshe’s Novel to Ling Zifeng’s Film” (Nanfang wentan [Southern Cultural Forum], Vol. 2, 2008), etc.  In the summer of 2010, Xiao worked as a research assistant in the Getty Research Institute for the exhibition “Brush and Shutter: Early Photography in China.”  Since 2013, Xiao has been working as the senior coordinator for two of the “Connecting Art Histories” programs supported by the Getty Foundation.