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: XV century

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)

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The artist looks like Mao.

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The 1401 competition for the creation of the gates of the Baptistery in Florence is often proposed as the starting date for the Italian Renaissance.

Here are two self-portraits of the artist who won that competition, Lorenzo Ghiberti. The above one is from the northern gates (1403-1424 ca.); the one below from the eastern gates (1425-1452 ca.), which an awed Michelangelo dubbed Porta del Paradiso, gate of paradise.

Here Ghiberti, now an established sculptor and architect, casts aside his turban, comes to terms with his baldness, and reveals that he looks rather like chairman Mao.

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(Flippancy aside, the naturalism of the self-representation was, at the time, nearly unprecedented. To see what I mean, contrast Volvinius‘ much earlier self-portrait.)

The artist looks down on you.

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Possibly my favourite self-portrait, this is one of only three characters in Sandro Botticelli‘s The Adoration of the Magi (1475 ca.) staring “at the camera”.

It has long been identified as the artist himself. His expression is formidable as he looks down on the viewers, including his commissioners, with an ever so imperceptibly pursed lip and raised eyebrow.

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