Page 8 Who was the sitter?

The identification of the sitter has been controversial since Vasconcellos linked the print to the Albertina drawing, thus identifying the sitter as Damaio de Gois. Naturally Portuguese scholars are keen to maintain the identification of a great national scholar, who has subsequently featured on Portuguese stamps, using the Albertina drawing and identified as being by Durer. However there are difficulties with the identification of the sitter as being both of Damaio and being by Durer.

1.     For the sitter to be Damaio and to have been depicted by Durer,  Durer and Damaio would have to have met and the only possibility would have been in Antwerp in January to July 1521 when Durer was there. Elizabeth Feist Hirsch points out (16) that it is generally assumed that Damaio was appointed to secretary at Indiahouse by King John III in 1523, but that in a little noticed preface to  Damaio's first publication of the Lagato Magni Indorum Imperialis Presbyteri, Louvain 1532 Damiao wrote 

“.. ille Christianissimus Rex Emanuel, educator meus, novo mihi dato officio me negociorum suarum causa huc ad Belgas mittit..” thus he was appointed before Manuel's death in December 1521. It has been objected that there would not have been time for Damaio to have travelled to Antwerp and then returned to Lisbon in time to be present in the King's bedchamber when he died in December 1521. However, there were frequent sailings by the King's ships between Lisbon and Antwerp, a distance of 1200 miles. This would have only taken 12 to 13 days at a speed of 4 knots. That Durer and Damiao met later in Nuremburg is ruled out by Damaio's 1536 letter from there to Erasmus, saying he never been to Nuremburg before. If Damaio did arrive in Antwerp before Durer's return to Nuremburg in July 1521, he could be the sitter.

2.    A second difficulty, pointed out by by Friederich Winkler (5)  arises from the apparent age of the sitter depicted. The Albertina drawing appears to depict a much older man than a youth of 20 as Damaio would have been in 1521. The drawing also depicts a man with a much broader face than the other three versions, particularly the Scots version, the sitter of which could be as young as 20. The impression of youth in the Scots version is enhanced by the sitter's narrow and sloping shoulders, giving the impression of a slight and small young man. 

3.    A third objection raised by Erwin Panofsky (6) applied to the proposition that the image was of Damaio and was painted later by Durer in Nuremburg. That has been ruled out by Damaio's letter to Erasmus mentioned above. A further objection was that the sitter was wearing a type of hat "worn exclusively in the Netherlands, and this, as far as we know, only from about 1519 to about 1521". This is not definitive, because we know that Durer was in the habit of starting portrait in charcoal and finishing them later in oil. Erasmus complained to Pirkheimer that Durer had taken his portrait in  charcoal in Brussels but not completed it (presumably in oils) and had probably lost it. Similarly it is possible the Durer started the "Damiao" portrait in the Netherlands and took it back to Nuremburg to finish it, or the sitter sent it to Nuremburg to be finished in oil. In this case, it indicates that the original, painted in Antwerp, was an oil, because one would expect Durer to revert to his normal German panels  of lime and pine when back home, rather than using Netherlandish oak.