A Self-portrait is a representation of an artist, drawn, painted, photographed, or sculpted by the artist. Although self-portraits have been made by artists since the earliest times, it is not until the Early Renaissance in the mid 1400s that artists can be frequently identified depicting themselves as either the main subject, or as important characters in their work. With better and cheaper mirrors, and the advent of the panel portrait, many painters, sculptors and printmakers tried some form of self-portraiture. The probable example by Jan van Eyck of 1433 is the earliest known panel self-portrait. [Campbell, Lorne; National Gallery Catalogues (new series): "The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Paintings", pp 212-17, 1998, ISBN 185709171] He painted a separate portrait of his wife, and he belonged to the social group that had begun to commission portraits, already more common among wealthy Netherlanders than south of the Alps. The genre is venerable, but not until the Renaissance, with increased wealth and interest in the individual as a subject, did it become truly popular. [ [ accessed online July 28, 2007 an online history of self-portraits, various excerpts from Edward Lucie-Smith and Sean Kelly, The Self Portrait: A Modern View (London: Sarema Press, 1987)] ]

Types of self-portrait

A self-portrait may be a portrait of the artist, or a portrait included in a larger work, including a group portrait. Many painters are said to have included depictions of specific individuals, including themselves, in painting figures in religious or other types of composition not intended to depict the actual persons as themselves. Often these are just faces in a crowd, often at the corner of the work, but a particular hybrid genre developed where historical scenes were depicted using a number of actual persons as models, often including the artist, giving the work a double function as portrait and history painting. Rubens and Rembrandt painted such scenes [ Eg, respectively, the "four Philosophers" and the "Prodigal Son" ( Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden)] This culminated in the seventeenth century with the work of Jan de Bray, and has been revived in recent years in photography by Cindy Sherman. Many artistic media have been used; apart from paintings, drawings and prints have been especially important.

Sometimes artists place their own image into group portraits, such as (probably) Jan van Eyck in the Arnolfini Portrait, who inspired Diego Velázquez in "Las Meninas". [Campbell, Lorne; National Gallery Catalogues (new series): "The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Paintings", pp 180, 1998, ISBN 185709171. The "Arnolfini Portrait" hung in the same palace in Madrid in which "Las Meninas" was painted] Later group portraits of family, friends or professional groups became common.

Gallery: Inserted self-portraits

Sandro Botticelli's painting of the "Adoration of the Magi" has an "inserted self-portrait". The position in the (right) corner, and the gaze out to the viewer, are very typical of such self-portraits.
Masaccio inserted self-portrait from the Brancacci Chapel frescoes (as is the Filippino Lippi), 1424-6.
Piero della Francesca as a sleeping soldier in his "Resurrection", 1463, fresco, Sansepolcro. [ [
Filippino Lippi as a figure in his "Martyrdom of Saint Peter", fresco, 1481-82, Brancacci Chapel , Florence. He is at the extreme right of a crowded composition. [ [

Women painters

Women artists are notable producers of self-portraits; almost all significant women painters have left an example, from Caterina van Hemessen to the prolific Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Frida Kahlo. Vigée-Lebrun painted a total of 37 self-portraits, many of which were copies of earlier ones, painted for sale. Women were usually unable to train in drawing the nude, which made it difficult for them to paint large figure compositions, and portraiture was a common specialism. Until the nineteenth century, they usually showed themselves in the act of painting, or at least holding a brush and palette. More often than with men, the viewer wonders if the clothes worn were those they normally painted in.


Images of artists at work are encountered in Ancient Egyptian painting, and sculpture [ [ Pharoah's sculptor, Bak accessed online July 28, 2007] ] and also on Ancient Greek vases. One of first self-portraits was made by the Pharaoh Akhenaten's chief sculptor Bak in 1365 BC. Plutarch mentions that the Ancient Greek sculptor Phidias had included a likeness of himself in a number of characters in the "Battle of the Amazons" on the Parthenon, and there are classical references to painted self-portraits, none of which have survived.


Portraits and self-portraits have a longer continuous history in Asian art than in Europe. Many in the scholar gentleman tradition are quite small, depicting the artist in a large landscape, illustrating a poem in calligraphy on his experience of the scene. Another tradition, associated with Zen Buddhism, produced lively semi-caricatured self-portraits, whilst others remain closer to the conventions of the formal portrait.

European art

Illuminated manuscripts contain a number of apparent self-portraits, notably those of Saint Dunstan and Matthew Paris. Most of these either show the artist at work, or presenting the finished book to either a donor or a sacred figure, or venerating such a figure. [Jonathon Alexander; "Medieval Illuminators and their Methods of Work"; p.8-34, Yale UP, 1992, ISBN0300056893 collects several examples]
Orcagna is believed to have painted himself as a figure in a fresco of 1359, which became, at least according to art historians - Vasari records a number of such traditions- a common practice of artists. However for earlier artists, with no other portrait to compare to, these descriptions are necessarily rather speculative. In Italy Giotto di Bondone (1267—1337) included himself in the cycle of "eminent men" in the Castle of Naples, Masaccio (1401—1428) depicted himself as one of the apostles in the painting of the Brancacci Chapel, and Benozzo Gozzoli includes himself, with other portraits, in the Palazzo Medici "Procession of the Magi" (1459), with his name written on his hat. This is imitated a few years later by Sandro Botticelli, as a spectator of "the Adoration of the Magi", who turns from the scene to look at us. (1475).Fourteenth century sculpted portrait busts of and by the Parler family in Prague Cathedral include self-portraits, and are among the earliest such busts of non-royal figues. Ghiberti included a small head of himself in his most famous work.

Albrecht Dürer, 1471-1528, the first prolific self-portraitist

Albrecht Dürer was an artist highly conscious of his public image and reputation, whose main income came from his old master prints, all containing his famous monogram, which were sold throughout Europe. He probably depicted himself more often than any artist before him, producing at least twelve images, including three oil portraits, and figures in four altarpieces. The earliest is a superb silverpoint drawing created when he was thirteen years old. At twenty-two Dürer painted the "Self-portrait with Carnation" (1493, Louvre), probably to send to his new fiancée. The Madrid self-portrait (1498, Prado) depicts Dürer as a dandy in fashionable Italian dress, reflecting the international success he had achieved by then. In his last self-portrait, sold or given to the city of Nuremberg, and displayed publicly, which very few portraits then were, the artist depicted himself with an unmistakable resemblance to Jesus Christ (Munich, Alte Pinakothek). He later re-used the face in a religious engraving of, revealingly, the Veil of Veronica, Christ's own "self-portrait" (B.25). A self-portrait in gouache he sent to Raphael has not survived. A woodcut of a bathhouse and a drawing show virtually-nude self-portraits. [For all this section, Giulia Bartrum, "Albrecht Dürer and his Legacy", p. 77-84 & passim, British Museum Press, 2002, ISBN 0714126330]

Renaissance and Baroque

The great Italian painters of the Renaissance made comparatively few formal painted self-portraits, but often included themselves in larger works. Most individual self-portraits they have left were straight-forward depictions; Dürer's showmanship was rarely followed, although a controversially attributed "Self-portrait as David" by Giorgione would have something of the same spirit, if it is a self-portrait. There is a portrait by Pietro Perugino of about 1500 (Collegio del Cambio of Perugia), and one by the young Parmigianino showing the view in a convex mirror. There is also a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci (1512). [ This drawing in red chalk is widely (though not universally) accepted as an original self-portrait. The main reason for hesitation in accepting it as a portrait of Leonardo is that the subject is apparently of a greater age than Leonardo ever achieved. But it is possible that he drew this picture of himself deliberately aged, specifically for Raphael's portrait of him in the School of Athens. A case has also been made, originally by novelist Dmitry Merezhkovsky, that Leonardo based his famous picture "Mona Lisa" on his own self-portrait.] , and self-portraits in larger works by Michelangelo, who gave his face to the skin of St. Bartholomew in the "Last Judgement" of the Sistine Chapel (1536-1541), and Raphael who is seen in the characters of "School of Athens" 1510, or with a friend who holds his shoulder (1518). Also notable are two portraits of Titian as an old man in the 1560s. Paolo Veronese appears as a violinist clothed in white in his "Marriage at Cana," accompanied by Titian on the bass viol (1562). Northern artists continued to make more individual portraits, often looking very much like their other bourgeois sitters.

Titian's "Allegory of Prudence" (c. 1565-70) is thought to depict Titian, his son Orazio, and a young cousin, Marco Vecellio. [Erwin Panofsky (and originally Fritz Saxl), "Titian's "Allegory of Prudence", A Postscript", in "Meaning in the Visual Arts", Doubleday/Penguin, 1955 ] Titian also painted a late self-portrait in 1567; apparently his first. Caravaggio painted himself in "Bacchus" at the beginning of his career, then appears in the staffage of some of his larger paintings. Finally, the head of Goliath held by David (1605-10, Galleria Borghese) is Caravaggio's own.

Gentile Bellini, black chalk, 1496 or earlier, Berlin
Nuremberg sculptor Adam Kraft, self-portrait from "St Lorenz Church", 1490s.
Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1512-1515
Nicholas Hilliard, self-portrait miniature, 1577

Rembrandt and the 17th century in Northern Europe

In the 17th century, Flemish and Dutch artists painted themselves far more often; by this date most successful artists had a position in society where a member of any trade would consider having their portrait painted. Very many also painted their wives and families, again following the normal practice for the middle-classes. Anthony Van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens gave us numerous images of themselves, the latter also often painting his family.

Rembrandt was the most frequent self-portraitist, at least until the self-obsessed modern period, also often painting his wife, son and mistress. At one time about ninety paintings were counted as Rembrandt self-portraits, but it is now known that he had his students copy his own self-portraits as part of their training. Modern scholarship has reduced the autograph count to something over forty paintings, as well as a few drawings and thirty-one etchings, which include many of the most remarkable images of the group. Many show him posing in quasi-historical fancy dress, or pulling faces at himself. His oil paintings trace the progress from an uncertain young man to the dapper and very successful portrait-painter of the 1630s to the troubled but massively powerful portraits of his old age. [For this section and the gallery, Ernst van de Wetering in "Rembrandt by himself", p.10 and passim, 1999, National Gallery, London/Mauritshuis, The Hague, ISBN 1857092708]

After Rembrandt

In Spain, there were self-portraits of Bartolomé Estéban Murillo and Diego Velázquez. Francisco de Zurbarán represented himself in Luke the Evangelist at the feet of Christ on the cross (around 1635). In the 1800s, Goya painted himself numerous times.French self-portraits, at least after Nicolas Poussin tend to show the social status of the artist, although Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and some other instead showed their real working costume very realistically. This was a decision all 18th century self-portraitists needed to make, although many painted themselves in both formal and informal costume in different paintings. Thereafter, one can say that most significant painters left us at least one self-portrait, even after the decline of the painted portrait with the arrival of photography. Gustave Courbet (see below) was perhaps the most creative self-portraitist of the 19th century, and "The Artist's studio" and "Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet" are perhaps the largest self-portraits ever painted. Both contain many figures, but are firmly centred on the heroic figure of the artist.

Prolific modern self-portraitists

One of the most famous and most prolific of self-portraitists was Vincent Van Gogh, who painted himself thirty-seven times between 1886 and 1889 [] In all of these self-portraits one is struck that the gaze of the painter is seldom directed at us; even when it is a fixed gaze, he seems to look elsewhere. These paintings vary in intensity and color and some portray the artist with bandages; representing the episode in which he severed one of his ears.

The many self-portraits of Egon Schiele set new standards of openness, or perhaps exhibitionism, representing him naked in many positions, sometimes masturbating or erect as in "Eros" (1911), with an enormous red erect penis. Stanley Spencer was to follow somewhat in this vein. Edvard Munch made great numbers of self-portrait paintings (70), prints (20) and drawings or watercolours (over 100) throughout his life, many showing him being badly treated by life, and especially by women. [ [ Munch Museum] ] Frida Kahlo, who following a terrible accident spent many years bedridden, with only herself for a model, was another painter whose self-portraits depict great pain, in her case physical as well as mental. Her 55-odd self-portraits include many of herself from the waist up, and also some nightmarish representations which symbolize her physical sufferings.

Throughout his long career Pablo Picasso often used self-portraits to depict himself in the many different guises, disguises and incarnations of his autobiographical artistic persona. From the young unknown "Yo Picasso" period to the "Minotaur in the Labyrinth" period, to the "old Cavalier" and the "lecherous old artist and model" periods. Often Picasso's self portraits depicted and revealed complicated psychological insights, both personal and profound about the inner state and well being of the artist. Another artist who painted interestingly personal and revealing self-portraits throughout his career was Pierre Bonnard. Bonnard also painted dozens of portraits of his wife Marthe throughout her life as well. Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Egon Schiele in particular made intense and self-revealing self-portrait paintings throughout their careers.

elf-portraits in general

Gallery:painters at work

Many of the medieval portraits show the artist at work, and Jan van Eyck (above) his chaperon hat has the parts normally hanging loose tied up on his head, giving the misleading impression he is wearing a turban, presumably for convenience whilst he paints. [Campbell, Lorne; National Gallery Catalogues (new series): "The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Paintings", pp 214, 1998, ISBN 185709171] In the early modern period, increasingly, men as well as women who painted themselves at work had to choose whether to present themselves in their best clothes, and best room, or to depict studio practice realistically. See also the Gallery of Women painters above.


Art critic Galina Vasilyeva-Shlyapina separates two basic forms of the self-portrait: "professional" portraits, in which the artist is depicted at work, and "personal" portraits, which reveal moral and psychological features. She also proposes a more detailed taxonomy: (1) the "insertable" self-portrait, where the artist inserts his or her own portrait into, for example, a group of characters related to some subject; (2) the "prestigious, or symbolic" self-portrait, where an artist depicts him- or herself in the guise of a historical person or religious hero; (3) the "group portrait" where artist is depicted with members of family or other real persons; (4) the "separate or natural" self-portrait, where the artist is depicted alone. However it might be thought these classes are rather rigid; many portraits manage to combine several of them. [Respecively, the "вставной","представительский, или символический", "групповой портрет", "отдельный или естественный"]

Mirrors and poses

The self-portrait supposes in theory the use of a mirror; glass mirrors became available in Europe in the 15th century. The first mirrors used were convex, introducing deformations that the artist sometimes preserved. A painting by Parmigianino in 1524 "Self-portrait in a mirror," demonstrates the phenomenon. Mirrors permit surprising compositions like the "Triple self-portrait" by Johannes Gumpp (1646), or more recently that of Salvador Dalí shown from the back painting his wife, Gala (1972-73). This use of the mirror often results in right-handed painters representing themselves as left-handed (and vice versa). Usually the face painted is therefore a mirror image of that the rest of the world saw, unless two mirrors were used. Most of Rembrandt's self-portraits before 1660 show only one hand - the painting hand is left unpainted. ["Rembrandt by himself", op cit, p.211] He appears to have bought a larger mirror in about 1652, after which his self-portraits become larger. In 1658 a large mirror in a wood frame broke whilst being transported to his house; nonetheless, in this year he completed his Frick self-portrait, his largest. The size of single-sheet mirrors was restricted until technical advances made in France in 1688 by Bernard Perrot. They also remained very fragile, and large ones were much more expensive pro-rata than small ones - the breakages were recut into small pieces. About 80 cms, or two and a half feet, seems to have been the maximum size until then - roughly the size of the palace mirror in "Las Meninas" (the convex mirror in the "Arnolfini Portrait" is considered by historians impractically large, one of Van Eyck's many cunning distortions of scale). ["Rembrandt by himself", op cit, pp 11-13; for the Arnolfini reference see: National Gallery Catalogues (new series): "The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Paintings", Lorne Campbell, 1998, ISBN 185709171] Largely for this reason, most early self-portraits show painters at no more than half-length. Self-portraits of the artist at work were, as mentioned above, the commonest form of medieval self-portrait, and these have continued to be popular, with a specially large number from the eighteenth century on. One particular type in the medieval and Renaissance periods was the artist shown as Saint Luke (patron saint of artists) painting the Virgin Mary. Many of these were presented to the local Guild of Saint Luke, to be placed in their chapel. A famous large view of the artist in his studio is "The Painter's Studio" by Gustave Courbet (1855), an immense "Allegory" of objects and characters amid which the painter sits.

Gallery:Mortality in the self-portrait

Other meanings, storytelling

The self-portraits of many Contemporary artists and Modernists often are characterized by a strong sense of narrative, often but not strictly limited to vignettes from the artists life-story. Sometimes the narrative resembles fantasy, roleplaying and fiction. Besides Diego Velazquez, (in his painting Las Meninas), Rembrandt Van Rijn, Jan de Bray, Gustave Courbet, Vincent Van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin other artists whose self-portraits reveal complex narratives include Pierre Bonnard, Marc Chagall, Lucien Freud, Arshile Gorky, Alice Neel, Pablo Picasso, Lucas Samaras, Jenny Saville, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol and Gilbert and George.


The self-portrait can be a very effective form of advertising for an artist, especially of course for a portrait painter. Dürer was not really interested in portraits commercially, but made good use of his extraordinary self-portraits to advertise himself as an artist, something he was very sophisticated in doing. Rembrandt made his living principally from portrait-painting during his most successful period, and like Van Dyck and Joshua Reynolds, many of his portraits were certainly intended to advertise his skills. With the advent of regular Academy shows, many artists tried to produce memorable self-portraits to make an impression on the artistic stage. A recent exhibition at the National Gallery, London, "Rebels and Martyrs", did not shrink from the comic bathos that sometimes resulted. [ [ Rebels and Martyrs, National Gallery] ] An example from the 21st century is Arnaud Prinstet, an otherwise little-known contemporary artist who has generated good amounts of publicity by undertaking to paint his self portrait every day. [ [,GGLG:2006-32,GGLG:en&start=10&sa=N Ses hits] ] On the other hand, some artists depicted themselves very much as they did other clients.

Diagnosing the self-portrait

Some artists who suffered neurological or physical diseases have left self-portraits of themselves that have allowed later physicians to attempt to analyze disruptions of mental processes; and many of these analyses have entered into the textbooks of neurology. [ [ accessed online July 28, 2007 an online history of self-portraits, various excerpts from Edward Lucie-Smith and Sean Kelly, The Self Portrait: A Modern View (London: Sarema Press, 1987)] ]

The self-portraits of artists who suffered mental illnesses, give a unique possibility to physicians for investigating self-perception in people with psychological, psychiatric or neurologic disturbances.

Russian sexologist Igor Kon in his article about masturbation notes that a habit of masturbating may be depicted in works of art, particularly paintings. So Austrian artist Egon Schiele depicted himself so occupied in one of his self-portraits. Kon observes that this painting does not portray pleasure from the masturbation, but a feeling of solitude. Creations of Schiele are analyzed by other researchers in terms of sexuality, and particularly pedophilia.


One of the most distinguished, and oldest, collections of self-portraits is in the Vasari Corridor of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It was originally the collection by the Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici in the second part of the 17th century and has been maintained and expanded until the present time. It is mostly not on view for general visitors, although some paintings are shown in the main galleries. Many famous artists have not been able to resist an invitation to donate a self-portrait to the collection. It comprises more than 200 portraits, in particular those of Pietro da Cortona, Charles Le Brun, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, and Marc Chagall. Other important collections are housed at the National Portrait Gallery (United Kingdom) in London (with various satellite outstations elsewhere), and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.



Two methods of obtaining photographic self-portraits are widespread. One is photographing a reflection in the mirror, and the other photographing one's self with the camera in an outstretched hand. Eleazar Langman photographed his reflection on the surface of a nickel-plated teapot.

Another method involves setting the camera or capture device upon a tripod, or surface. One might then set the camera's timer, or use a remote controlled shutter release.

Finally, setting up the camera, entering the scene and having an assistant release the shutter (i.e., if the presence of a cable release is unwanted in the photo) can arguably be regarded as a photographic self-portrait, as well.

Drawings, prints and engravings

ee also

*Hockney-Falco thesis
*Portrait painting
*The Portrait Now
*Self-Portraits by Vincent van Gogh

Notes and references

Further reading

* John J. Ciofalo, "Self-Portraits of Francisco Goya." Cambridge University Press, 2001
* Edward Lucie-Smith with Sean Kelly, "The Self Portrait: A Modern View". (1987)
* Ernst van de Wetering and others; "Rembrandt by himself", 1999, National Gallery, London/Mauritshuis, The Hague, ISBN 1857092708
* Joseph L. Koerner, "The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art", Chicago/London, 1993
* Jonathan Miller, "On Reflection", 1998, National Gallery, isbn 857092376.
* Belle, Julian (Ed.): "Five Hundred Self-Portraits". Phaidon Press, London/New York, 2000 (pb 2004), ISBN 0-7148-4384-9 Self-Portraits in chronological order from ancient Egypt to the present.

Not in English

* Joëlle Moulin, "L'autoportrait au XXe siècle", éd. Adam Biro, Paris, 1999
* Pascal Bonafoux, "Les peintres et l'autoportrait", 1984
* Bernard Auriol, "L'image préalable, l'expression impressive et l'autoportrait", Psychologie Médicale, 19, 9, 1543-1547, 1987
* Bonafoux, Pascal / Rosenberg, David: "Moi! Autoportraits du XXe siècle". Musée du Luxembourg (Paris) / Skira Editore (Milano), Exhibition catalogue. 2004, Text French, Paris 2004, ISBN 88-8491-854-5 The book presents 155 artist (fine art) of the 20th century by showing their self-portraits added by informative texts.
* Borzello, Frances: "Wie Frauen sich sehen – Selbstbildnisse aus fünf Jahrhunderten". Karl Blessing Verlag, München 1998, ISBN 3-89667-052-2
* Calabrese, Omar: "Die Geschichte des Selbstporträts". Deutscher Kunstverlag, München 2006, ISBN 3-7774-2955-4
* Pfisterer, Ulrich / Rosen, Valeska von ~ (Hrsg.): "Der Künstler als Kunstwerk. Selbstporträts vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart". Reclam, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-15-010571-4 ( [ Rezension] )

Self-portrait in neurology

* Tielsch AH, Allen PJ (2005) "Listen to them draw: screening children in primary care through the use of human figure drawings". Pediatr Nurs 31(4): 320—327. This survey of literature is focused on the method of drawing people as the method of diagnostics. Children's figures can recognize mental disorders. The authors describe the use of self-portraits for diagnostics of emotional disorders in children from 6 to 12 years. Although this procedure does not make it possible to place final diagnosis, it is useful for the recognition of problems.
* Morin C, Pradat-Diehl P, Robain G, Bensalah Y, Perrigot M (2003) Stroke hemiplegia and specular
Patients with hemiplegia have diverse problems of self-perception, which are caused by neurological defeats of the idea of body, or by psychological problems with the perception their own self.

Psychology of self-perception

* Wegner DM (2003) The mind’s self-portrait. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1001: 212—225. Psychology and neuroscience approach understanding of reason and consciousness. Meanwhile each human reason contains the self-portrait, which contains the self-appraisal of cognitive processes. This self-portrait assumes that the actions of man are governed by thoughts and, thus, the body is governed by consciousness. Self-portrait leads to the persuasion, that we consciously desire to make something. Studies show that self-portraiture is a caricature on the function of the brain, but at the same time it is the basis of the sensation of authorship and responsibility of one's own actions.

External links

* [ National Portrait Gallery] - Official web site
* [ "The Exploration of Self: What Artists Find When They Search in the Mirror"] by Jeanne Ivy.
* [ "Creating Self-Portraits"] - a method of self-examination.
* [] website research related to "The Self Portrait: A Modern View." (1987), Edward Lucie-Smith with Sean Kelly and other booksOne can also use the term "autoportrait" in the search engine of the [ "Joconde" database] , which describes the works of 84 French museums, including the Louvre:
* [ 52 self-portraits from the National Galleries of Scotland]

Other links :
* [ Joshua Reynolds self-portraits, from the Tate]
* [ All 37 Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun self-portraits]
* [ The Center for Fine Art Photography] - Hosting the "Idea of Self" juried self portrait photo exhibition

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