Artists' self-portraits are fundamental to understanding both portraiture and art history. They are the way in which many artists have come to be remembered, offering a glimpse into their lives, their environment and even their state of mind. The way artists portray themselves can inspire others. When artists use their imagination and ideas to create something, the process of connection is always present.
Thus, artists who take risks or are more creative can inspire and connect others. Artists' self-portraits are an interesting subset of portraiture and can often be very revealing. Rembrandt's are especially famous. This, of course, varies between periods and cultures, but it was certainly true of the European tradition, from which the genre of formalised portraiture emerged.
Many of the most famous works of art before the 19th century, such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa or Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, were commissions. Many of the earliest portraits were "donor portraits", that is, portraits within a larger (usually religious) painting of the person who paid for it and his or her family. In the example above by Albrecht Altdorfer (c. Women artists have been particularly prolific in the genres of portraiture and self-portraiture, probably because throughout most of history they could not paint nudes or in the public sphere.
In the earlier painting, Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat (178), she presents herself as a professional and fashionable artist, brushes and palette in hand. She had been inspired by Peter Paul Ruben's painting Portrait of Susanna Lunden (1622-2 , and by evoking it through her clothing and background, she aligns herself with another great artist in history. Frida Kahlo is one of the most famous self-portraitists, who created over fifty paintings of herself during her lifetime, exploring different aspects of her inner life and psychology. One of her most famous self-portraits, The Two Fridas (193), depicts two aspects of her persona.
The Frida on the right wears a traditional Tehuana costume, while the Frida on the left wears a white Victorian-style dress. Some art historians believe that the painting is a representation of her dual heritage, and one possible interpretation is that her husband, Diego Rivera, loved the Tehuana Frida but rejected the European Frida (the painting was completed in the year of their divorce). Kahlo's own interpretation was that she was inspired by the memory of a childhood friend. Who is the Englishman in Malevich's An Englishman in Moscow (191)? A self-portrait is a representation of an artist drawn, painted, photographed or sculpted by him or herself.
Although self-portraits have been produced since the earliest times, it is not until the early Renaissance, in the mid-15th century, that artists can be identified as depicting themselves as the main subject or important figures in their work. With the improvement and cheapening of mirrors and the appearance of portraiture on panel, many painters, sculptors and printmakers tried their hand at some form of self-portraiture. Jan van Eyck's Portrait of a Man in a Turban of 1433 may be the earliest known self-portrait on panel. He painted a separate portrait of his wife, and belonged to the social group that had begun to commission portraits, now more common among wealthy Netherlanders than south of the Alps.
The genre is venerable, but did not become truly popular until the Renaissance, with the rise of wealth and interest in the individual as subject. Almost everyone would recognise his Starry Night, but probably also his self-portrait with its solemn gaze and fiery red facial hair. Dürer was not very interested in portraits on a commercial level, but he made good use of his extraordinary self-portraits to advertise himself as an artist, something at which he was very sophisticated. In short, while it is clear that contemporary selfies are produced very frequently and often quite incidentally, they are intended to provide similar messages and show similar kinds of expression as self-portraits in the realm of artistic painting did for centuries.
In his last self-portrait, which was sold or given to the city of Nuremberg and exhibited publicly, something very few portraits did at the time, the artist depicted himself with an unmistakable resemblance to Jesus Christ (Munich, Alte Pinakothek). Self-portraiture can be a very effective form of advertising for an artist, especially, of course, for a portraitist. Some artists who suffered from neurological or physical illnesses have left self-portraits of themselves that have enabled later physicians to attempt to analyse the alterations in mental processes; and many of these analyses have found their way into neurological textbooks. But what exactly is a self-portrait? Below, we will explore the definition of a self-portrait, as well as famous examples of self-portraits.
One of the most distinguished, and oldest, collections of self-portraits is in the Vasari Corridor of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Of the Virgin Mary, he made much more than a singular self-portrait in oil (Hall, 201 yet some of these brilliant portraits showing the "artist behind the prints were also important in underlining the extraordinary quality of the creator. Another tradition, associated with Zen Buddhism, produced lively semi-caricatured self-portraits, while others remain closer to the conventions of formal portraiture. Until the 20th century, women were often not trained in nude drawing, which made it difficult for them to paint large compositions of figures, leading many artists to specialise in portrait work.
In essence, both the self-portrait and the selfie are based on the idea or desire to freeze, hold or document a fluctuating but significant slice of life. James McNeill Whistler, Portrait of Whistler with Hat, 1858, a self-portrait in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C. The goal of showing performance in a self-portrait is certainly closely related to the above categories, but focuses more on aspects of the artist's ability and skill.