The first self-portrait: a bad start.

by Self-Portrait of the Artist

“But the reputation of his works nevertheless brought a burden of jealous hatred upon Phidias, and especially the fact that when he wrought the battle of the Amazons on the shield of the goddess, he carved out a figure that suggested himself as a bald old man lifting on high a stone with both hands, and also inserted a very fine likeness of Pericles fighting with an Amazon. And the attitude of the hand, which holds out a spear in front of the face of Pericles, is cunningly contrived as it were with a desire to conceal the resemblance, which is, however, plain to be seen from either side.

Phidias, accordingly, was led away to prison, and died there of sickness; but some say of poison which the enemies of Pericles provided, that they might bring calumny upon him.”

This is the first account of a self-portrait in history — the image of the Great Phidias (ca 480-420 BCE) sculpted on Athena’s shield on the Parthenon in Athens.

Self-portraiture is riddling from the start: Phidias’ act is perceived as hubristic and brings upon him envy and demise.

The episode is narrated by Plutarch, Life of Pericles, 31, 4-5.

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