Self-Portrait of the Artist

An untidy history of artists' representations of themselves in pretty much any form you can think of (painting & sculpture, poetry & prose, photo & film…) — updated every third day and open for suggestions.

Tag: Netherlands

The artist time-travels.

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We can all agree that this Vanitas with portrait of a young painter (ca 1651) represents the artist holding a portrait of himself. Yet what David Bailly (1584-1657) exactly meant as he set about portraying his younger self in the act of subverting the laws of space and time by the mere act of holding a portrait of himself at the age of 67, i.e. the age of the actual real-life David Bailly at the time he produced the painting (the real one and the fictional one in it) — well, that I leave to you.

(You can also see a portrait of what appears to be the artist’s wife, and, as an ‘easter egg’, her ghost behind the tall glass — And the ‘ghost’ reappears, with new implications, in Helen Lundberg’s Double portrait of the artist in time)

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The artist has an unheimlich descendant.

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Three hundred and sixty-six years before Hugo Williams’ ‘Last poem‘, Pieter Claesz‘s Vanitas with violin and glass ball (ca 1628) combines a classic Dutch seventeenth-century vanitas with a self-portrait.

(The violin’s music that cannot be heard is particularly relevant to Williams’ tongue that will not speak.)

The artist at work can be seen in the glass ball, which flaunts Van Eyck and Parmigianino‘s convex mirrors amongst its notable predecessors, and claims a Still-life with a spherical mirror (1934) by M. C. Escher, the drawing Dutchman, as its unheimlich descendant.

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The artist…?

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Convex mirrors (such as Parmigianino’s) became somewhat fashionable in the Renaissance.

This is probably the first, and certainly the most celebrated, to appear in a painting: the legendary Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, dated 1434.

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I have uploaded the mirror in high resolution, so you can zoom in and see if you can tell whether one of the two figures in it (possibly the one with the red turban) is indeed Jan van Eyck.

He should look something like this–though his identity is disputed here too:

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(Jan van Eyck, Portrait of a man in a chaperon [Self-portrait?], 1433)

The artist turns into his painting.

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The first step is Piet Mondrian‘s first self-portrait, painted around 1900, and still quite traditional.

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The second step is the Zelfportret from 1918. Here Mondrian is posing in front of a neo-plasticist painting in the style of the previous year, when the De Stijl movement and its journal were founded.

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Finally, in this ink, charcoal and gouache drawing (1942) the artist and his style have merged. Piet Mondrian has turned into his art.

The artist ages.

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The most prominent painter of the Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt van Rijn was also a prolific self-portrayer, with over 90 representations of himself in paintings, etchings, or sketches, documenting his entire life from youth and fame to old age.

Here are the first and last of his oil self-portraits. They date respectively 1628 and 1669, the year of his death.

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