The martyrdom of the ten thousand Christians, Dürer

The martyrdom of the ten thousand Christians, Dürer
The martyrdom of the ten thousand Christians, Dürer

Throughout the history of painting there are many artists who have taken the license to represent themselves on canvases created by themselves that have nothing to do with the subject of self-portraiture, famous are the portraits for example Velázquez in Las Meninas or Goya in the Family of Carlos IV. Actually, this aspect speaks well to us of the painter's ability to perceive himself from a psychological point of view, as well as his ability to scrutinize the characters.


The work that we are analyzing today is one of those canvases in which the artist takes advantage of the amalgamation of characters to introduce a representation of his own person, he is not one of the secondary characters but rather the opposite, in the few main characters there are in the composition. The work is about the Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand Christians by the Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer.

Alberto Dürer (1471 – 1528) is perhaps the most representative artist of the Renaissance period in Northern Europe. Dürer was a prolific and versatile artist whose work would have a powerful influence on subsequent artists, becoming a benchmark in the field of painting and engraving; in fact, artists as prominent as Raphael himself took Dürer as a reference for his time. Despite everything, the artist was characterizedfor the simple compositions of few characters and the work that we are analyzing here today is one of the few examples in which Dürer incorporated a large number of characters and not in a very successful way.

This is a representation in oil on canvas that the artist painted around the year 1508. The work is vertical in format and small in size (it barely reaches a meter in height) and was commissioned by Frederick the Wise to decorate the room where he kept the relics of the ten thousand martyrs who suffered persecution by Emperor Diocletian.

Altogether Dürer represented about one hundred and forty figures, as we have already pointed out this was not exactly the artist's speci alty and as a result, the composition seems chaotic with figures that interrupt the space of others and fail to harmonize in the set. On the contrary, the two characters in the lower left corner deserve special attention, they are Dürer himself who has been portrayed together with one of the most important humanist thinkers in Germany, Conrad Celtis.Dürer is depicted in rich robes that attest to his prominent social position not as a craftsman but as an intellectual.

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