Artist's Self Portaits by Omar CalabreseArtist's Self Portaits by Omar Calabrese

Artist's Self Portaits

byOmar CalabreseTranslated byMarguerite Shore

Hardcover | May 1, 2006

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In his fascinating survey, art historian Omar Calabrese reveals that self-portraits through the ages are both a reflection of the artist and of the period in which the artist lived. Organized thematically, the author first presents a basic definition of the genre of the self-portrait, interpreting the picture to be a manifestation of self identity, and including examples from an Egyptian tomb painting and pictures on stained glass during the Middle Ages and continuing to modern times. The next chapter focuses on the turning point for the establishment of the genre during the Renaissance when the status of the painter or sculptor was raised from artisan to artist and, as a result, portraits of the artist were considered worthwhile pictures. At first a self-portrait was hidden in a narrative painting: an artist would paint his image as part of a crowd scene, for example, or as a mythological figure. On the other extreme, once the genre was accepted, it was practiced by some artists—Rembrandt, van Gogh, Munch, and Dali, for instance—as almost an obsession. In contemporary art the self-portrait can become a deconstructed genre with the artist hiding or satirizing himself until he nearly disappears on the canvas. Among the 300 pictures featured here are examples by such artists as Albrecht Dürer, Velàzquez, Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Ingres, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gainsborough, Matisse, James Ensor, Egon Schiele, Frida Kahlo, Man Ray, Henry Moore, Robert Rauschenberg, Norman Rockwell, and Roy Lichtenstein. This intriguing book is a fresh way to appreciate the history of art and to understand that a self-portrait is far more complex and meaningful than merely a portrait of the artist.
Omarr Calabrese is a professor of art and semiotics at the University of Siena. He has also taught at Yale University, the Sorbonne, a university in Berlin and served as a curator for a number of television programs about art. He has written several books , including Neo-Baroque: A Sign of the Times (Princeton University Press) and ed...
Title:Artist's Self PortaitsFormat:HardcoverDimensions:392 pages, 13 × 11 × 1.56 inPublished:May 1, 2006Publisher:Abbeville Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0789208946

ISBN - 13:9780789208941

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Read from the Book

INTRODUCTIONScholars have addressed the theme of the self-portrait many times in the history of art. Sometimes they have approached it from a merely iconographic viewpoint in keeping with the tradition of the great sixteenth- and seventeen-century collections: a gathering of “illustrious men,” limited to names of great artists who have portrayed themselves. At other times they have examined a specific historical period, during which the execution of self-portraits corresponds to the birth of an ideology, a poetics, or a social event. Or they have emphasized striking individual cases—Rembrandt, van Gogh, Munch, and a few others who worked in this genre with obsessive insistence—and scholars have attempted to clarify the artists’ motives or the stylistic consequences.All three approaches have many merits, but also certain drawbacks. Iconographic galleries, for example, often provide great quantities of documents and constitute a requisite source for further analytical study, but they limit the scholar to the creation of lists, without touching upon the description and interpretation of the phenomenon, let alone an explanation. Research of a historical nature, instead, focuses specifically on descriptive, interpretive, and explicative aspects (and thus is “scientific” in the accepted sense of the term), but its defect is that it ignores the possible existence of a general theory of this artistic subject, since the decisive moments that are selected are not compared with preceding and subsequent moments in history, nor are more general observations drawn. Studies of individual artists, finally, include the investigation of the self-portrait within more complex individual biographical reconstructions, but end up losing sight of the particular subject, and thus the definition of the theme in question.This book proposes to follow a different path. First of all, it is intended as an actual “history” of the self-portrait. That I put the term in quotes should come as no surprise. The word history has an ambiguous meaning, for it depends on the viewpoint from which it is proposed. In this essay, the reader will find not a chronological succession of events, determined by works’ dates of execution, but a succession of concepts. Each has its own origins in a particular historical moment, resulting in separate developments. For example, the first chapter begins with self-portraits as a manifestation of a general identity (the name of the artist rather than his actual features, and then the appearance of his image as a substitute for his signature). This type emerged in classical antiquity and continued into the Middle Ages, and it remained in force, in certain cases, until modern times, although perhaps it changed in meaning and showed greater awareness of the weight of tradition on the part of artists who adopted this approach. The second chapter deals with the self-portrait hidden in narrative scenes, a phenomenon that dates back to the late Middle Ages and the early fifteenth century. In these instances it is almost as if the artists felt the need to sign their works. But once again, I note subsequent developments, as well as connotations that derive from the conscious use of this model.The commissioned self-portrait began in the fifteenth century in Flemish circles, and it indicates certain moral characteristics of the artist. Next came the autonomous self-portrait meant to celebrate the new social role of the artist, and it was parallel to the portrait, a genre of which it is a subspecies. We also have the question of the theoretical basis for the self-portrait. The earliest large-scale production of mirrors, first convex and then flat, occurred in the sixteenth century. During this period the rules of perspective also evolved to become central to ideas on the composition of a work of art. This same period saw the development of a way of understand the self-portrait as a sign of its creator’s glory, a consequence of the emergence of the idea of the “divine” artist.The theme of glory (initially entirely male), however, brings out an analogous but different female claim, and in this case too, there is an exploration of the specifics and contradictions resulting from current social considerations for women. After the arts came to be considered a profession, there was a return to the appreciation of material technique, beginning in the late sixteenth century, and for this reason we shall examine the different significance of the theme of the atelier. During this same period, two themes emerge: that of the artist’s difference, strangeness, and eccentricity, and that of his most private and, in some case, negative passions, which at the same time are the origin of introspective activity. With the seventeenth century, some masters used the self-portrait to investigate their own autobiographies, through the tool of the image in place of writing. Finally, in the twentieth century (but with some minor investigation of Baroque antecedents), we arrive at the negation or even destruction of the self-portrait.As one can see, historical progress occurs side by side with a taxonomy, that is, the classification of the different models of self-portraiture. In this case too, however, there is an attempt to go beyond pure schematic organization. Each of the types illustrated in the various chapters corresponds to an abstract concept: identity, firsthand witness, the symbol of a value, laying claim to a role, the scientific basis of the depiction of self, social legitimization, sexual difference, technical mastery, passions, and the negation of identity. But all these concepts deal with reciprocal relationships, and their totality is so closely interwoven that we are led to conclude that there is a veritable theory of the self-portrait, slowly but steadily developed over approximately four thousand years of tradition. This theory ends up coinciding with a broader theory of representation, for it expresses and occasionally challenges precisely the principles of that theory.At this point two observations are called for. First, the conceptual apparatus that emerges from our investigation, and which is expressed here through words, is manifested by artists completely through their communicative tool par excellence, that is, the image. This confirms a thesis that should be considered an axiomatic point of departure: art can be a theory of itself, even using its own means, and not only through the mediation of verbal language, as linguists usually maintain. There is no merit to objections regarding the real awareness that artists have had in achieving this. In fact, culture speaks in us of its own organization, even when we are not aware of its formative principles.The second observation is that the various theoretical aspects that emerge from artists’ works have been “translated” here and made homogenous through the methodologies of the behavioral sciences. I resort to narratology—a theory of narrative—when considering the narrative forms of the self-portrait, to semiotics when revealing the character of artists’ declarative subjectivity, to anthropology and cognitive psychology when there is a need to illustrate the phenomenon of identity, and so on, in a vast gathering of analytical procedures. But this is precisely this book’s fundamental feature: not to engage in an abstract and muddled interdisciplinary analysis, but to always remain anchored to the study of individual works, and to occasionally summon whichever theoretical aspects are explicitly or implicitly referred to by the work themselves, or that serve to better understand them.It follows that this book voluntarily emerges with many intellectual debts, sometimes states and sometimes left in the background. The first and greatest debt is owed to those who established and developed a theory of art similar tot he one I have outlined above, primarily Hubert Damisch and Louis Marin, whose works have provided profound inspiration for this volume. The system that underlies the eleven chapters of the book is derived from a concise but fundamental article by Andre Chastel on the self-portrait. I owe part of the format of the chapters on the female self-portrait to an insight by the late Rene Payant, raised at a conference in Urbino in 1981 but never published. Many observations by Joanna Woods-Mardsen, author of the best book on the self-portrait that has been written (but which deals only with the Italian Renaissance) have been expanded, extended, and applied with the same spirit to other periods. Often one will note a neo-Warburgian approach to illuminating the discourse from behind, owing above all to Rudolf Wittkower. It goes without saying, moreover, that my iconographic research rests on the shoulders of those who have already followed similar lines of inquiry: Julian Bell, Pascal Bonafoux, Frances Borzello, Katherine T. Brown, Ian Chilvers, Elizabeth Drury, Manual Gasser, Silvia Meloni Trkulja, and Joelle Moulin.Finally I am deeply indebted to the memory of a great friend, the late Daniel Arasse, who was the first to suggest that I write this book, whereas I, instead, maintain that he would have been the most appropriate choice, given his numerous and splendid analyses of the expression of subjectivity in the figurative arts.

Table of Contents

Introduction 23

The Artist’s Signature
The problem of identity from antiquity to the middle ages 29

Precursors to Alfred Hitchcock
The self-portrait as an aside 49

“Je est un autre”
The self-portrait as an historic figure 85

Created by Myself
The self-portrait as a sign of intellectual autonomy 125

The Artist and His Double
The contradictions of the mirror 161

Prominent Artists
The self-portrait as a sign of celebrity 183

Questions of Genre
Women and the self-portrait 215

Recurring Motifs
The artist as a technician 249

Born under Saturn
The self-portrait and private passions 283

The autobiographical self-portrait 315

Where Is the Image?
The negation of the self-portrait 345

Conclusion 379
Notes 381
Bibliography 384
Index of Names 386

Editorial Reviews

"Calabreses history of the form highlights its versatility." —The New York Times"Artists' Self-Portraits, a monumental yet lively study, encompasses the long and illustrious history of this piquant subset of the portrait form, which Italian art professor Calabrese traces back to antiquity, then forward into the modern era...His expert interpretations are illuminating, but it's the opportunity to revel in 345 gorgeous color reproductions and gaze into the eyes of such superlative artists as Albrecht Durer, Elisabeth Vigee-Labrun, Goya, Manet, Munch, James Ensor, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Frida Kahlo that makes the book such a transporting experience." —Booklist"Magnificently illustrated." —The New Criterion