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Self-Portrait with His Wife, Ida

Israhel van Meckenem, German, 1440/45 - 1503

Date:
c. 1490

Medium:
Engraving

Dimensions:
Sheet: 5 1/4 x 7 1/16 inches (13.3 x 17.9 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
2002-59-1

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift of Suzanne A. Rosenborg, 2002

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Label:
Israhel's image of himself and his wife Ida is the first known engraved portrait of an artist and one of the first portrait engravings in the history of art. Ida is garbed in a fur-trimmed robe befitting the wife of a newly elected member of the town council, while he wears a merchant's cap. The most prolific engraver of his time displays his talent in the richly brocaded background. His pride in his accomplishments is proclaimed in the Latin inscription of his name in addition to his more usual monogram.

Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    In the late 1400s, when the faceless artisan was beginning to shed the anonymity of the medieval guild system, a Latin caption beneath this double portrait proudly proclaimed the identities of the sitters as “Israhel and his wife, Ida.” Not only are these the earliest engraved portraits of known persons, but Van Meckenem’s own likeness is the first self-portrait by a printmaker.

    Engraving emerged as a new method for making pictures in towns along the Upper Rhine in the 1430s as goldsmiths began to ink and print their incised designs as workshop patterns. Around 1490, when he made this print, Van Meckenem was the most successful engraver in German-speaking lands and was producing a wide variety of printed wares, ranging from playing cards and scenes of wooing to sacred images and religious indulgences.

    In addition to disseminating distinctive regional styles of painting, architecture, and design, engravings also efficiently conveyed the latest fashions. For his portrait Van Meckenem has donned a soft felt cap and simple tunic, while his wife has chosen an elegant furtrimmed dress and crisp linen headdress, which she has fastened neatly with a pin below her dimpled chin. The rich brocade backdrop is of the sort often encountered in the finest paintings during this period. As moderately priced luxury goods, such engravings must have been printed by the dozens and quickly purchased by all who could afford them, but few survive today. Of the ten known impressions of Van Meckenem’s masterful portrait print, a landmark in the history of Western art, this pristine example is one of the very best. John Ittman, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 8.

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