We are living in the era of “self-branding.” Indeed, social media are flooded with unique and original profile photos of users who seek fame and popularity. As early as the 16th century, German Renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer already mastered how to practice self-branding. In his early days, he attempted to promote not only his artistic competence but also his status and fame by drawing his self-portraits.
Although he was born to a poor goldsmith family in 1471, Dürer did not engage in his family business but later decided to become an artist. The skillful artist, with a strong sense of identity, produced multiple pieces of self-portraits after drawing the first one at the age of 13, which was recorded as the first-ever self-portrait in Western art history. Critics comment that the one drawn at the age of 28 is the most famous piece, clearly illustrating what self-branding is about. It is reminiscent of the classic iconography of Jesus who blesses people by putting his hands up – the perfect bilateral symmetry of the face and the body, his hair and mustache that are overly well-groomed, the glaring eyes staring forward, a luxurious fur coat and the hand motion that obviously points out him. The Jesus-like self-portrait was a tool for the artist to assign himself the status of a god-like creator.
Dürer was already aware of the significance of copyrights. He left his pieces autographed even in the 1490s. This drawing has his autograph on the left side of the background. The trademark of Dürer combining letters from his name, A and D, was inscribed in all of his drawings and engravings to spread across the European continent. His name per se became a famous brand. An inscription in Latin to his left writes: "Thus I, Albrecht Dürer from Nuremberg, painted myself with enduring colors at the age of 28 years."
The German painter contributed to raising the status of artists, who were then considered masters out of the spotlight, to that of revered intellectuals and creators. In recognition of his contribution, Dürer earned fame and wealth. When he passed away, those after him fabricated his death mask and stored and sealed his hair strands to deify the dead artist just as saints. It was Dürer who flourished Renaissance arts by branding himself in Germany where there was low public awareness of arts. Nowadays, he is commended as one of the greatest German artists.