kneeling man with long wavy hair and beard, holding drapery around his lower torso and thighs with his PL hand, and flogging himself on the back with a whip in his in PR hand; altar with candles at right

The Penitent, 1510

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Albrecht Dürer was the leading artist of the German Renaissance. Extremely influential in many fields, he is widely recognized as one of the greatest printmakers of all time. Among his achievements are his advances in the depiction of human anatomy, emotion, and perspectival space, all of which are brilliantly rendered in this small print. Though the image obviously shows a repentant man flagellating himself, more specific identification remains elusive. The image is sometimes described as a self-portrait; indeed, the man's features are not unlike the artist's, and Dürer did have a penchant for self-portraiture, both explicit and disguised. The ark on the altar has prompted another plausible suggestion—that the figure is David, the Old Testament king who repented and whose penitential prayer is Psalm 51. If so, Dürer appears to have followed the spirit rather that the letter of the second book of Samuel 11-12, which records the story of the king's repentance after his sinful treatment of Bathsheba, and her husband Uriah. The account makes no mention of self-flagellation. Still, the lack of Christian symbols couple with a temple-like setting suggest an Old Testament subject.

Details
Title
The Penitent
Artist Life
1471–1528
Role
Artist
Accession Number
2009.47.1
Provenance
Probably M. A. McDonald (New York). Sale, Skinner, Boston, March 2, 2007, no. 79; to Bergquist; [James Bergquist, Newton, Mass. (2007-2009; sold to MIA)
Catalogue Raisonne
Bartsch 119, Hollstein 1866, Meder 108
Curator Approved

This record has been reviewed by our curatorial staff but may be incomplete. These records are frequently revised and enhanced. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email collectionsdata@artsmia.org.

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kneeling man with long wavy hair and beard, holding drapery around his lower torso and thighs with his PL hand, and flogging himself on the back with a whip in his in PR hand; altar with candles at right