The Self-Portrait: A Cultural History
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Sheds new light on the long history of self-portraiture with fresh interpretations of famous examples and new works, ideas, and anecdotes
This broad cultural history of self-portraiture brilliantly maps the history of the genre, from the earliest myths of Narcissus and the Christian tradition of “bearing witness” to the prolific self-image-making of today’s contemporary artists.
Focusing on a perennially popular subject, the book tells the vivid history of works that offer insights into artists’ personal, psychological, and creative worlds. Topics include the importance of the medieval mirror craze in early self-portraiture; the confessional self-portraits of Titian and Michelangelo; the mystique of the artist’s studio, from Vermeer to Velázquez; the role of biography and geography for serial self-portraitists such as Courbet and Van Gogh; the multiple selves of modern and contemporary artists such as Cahun and Sherman; and recent developments in the era of globalization.
Comprehensive and beautifully illustrated, the book features the work of a wide range of artists including Beckmann, Caravaggio, Dürer, Gentileschi, Ghiberti, Giotto, Goya, Kahlo, Kauffman, Magritte, Mantegna, Picasso, Poussin, Raphael, Rembrandt and Van Eyck. The full range of the subject is explored, including comic and caricature self-portraits, “invented” or imaginary self-portraits, and important collections of self-portraiture such as that of the Medici. 120 illustrations in color and black and white
rapes himself’. Giuseppe Penone, Soffio 4, 1978, fired clay The most successful of the ‘poignant imprinters’ is undoubtedly the British sculptor Antony Gormley (b. 1950). His work is seen to best effect in Another Place (1997), first installed on a pleasure beach in Cuxhaven, northern Germany, and then re-sited permanently on a beach near Liverpool, England. One hundred identical cast iron figures, standing bolt upright, line the shore, between 50 and 250 metres apart (some 164 to 820 ft), and
astrologers, musicians, painters, buffoons and soldiers. Villani tells us that not only did Giotto emulate the ancient artists (Zeuxis, Phidias, Apelles, etc.), he surpassed them in the rendering of nature. Further, he was a prudent man ‘anxious for fame not gain’, and his skill as a painter was based on wide knowledge, which made him a rival of the great poets. To underscore Giotto’s status as both polymathic and literate, Villani says he ‘also painted with the help of mirrors himself and his
the doddering artist touches the pregnant belly of his young mistress, and which for two centuries was believed to be an authentic self-portrait. There were commercial reasons, too, for exaggerating his age. Most of Titian’s letters after 1559 mention his age, often when appealing for money from patrons (a habit that gave him a reputation for greed). By hinting he was in his ‘ultimate old age’, he encouraged patrons to act promptly if they wanted any more pictures. But Titian’s two late
the image dwelling in the artist’s soul, which mirrors the divine. Plotinus expresses the relative autonomy of the self-portrait in relation to nature by saying that the image ‘is due to the effective laying on of the colours’.6 In Egypt, Plotinus must have come across those painted bust-length portraits attached to the front of mummy cases, so they look like faces peering through a window, uncannily alive. Those painted in encaustic often have vibrant visible brushwork and expressive colour
architectural scale and form, and can be inhabited by the artist. The task at hand is made comparable to the creation of churches and cathedrals, which were also extensively painted. Yet only in the next century did master masons start to be honoured with tombs and inscriptions in their own cathedrals.17 Whereas vast teams of workers were required to create such buildings, this artist clearly works alone. There is a powerful sense in this self-portrait initial that the individual artist lives