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Art History Course


The 'selfie' might be a recent phenomenon but self-portraiture has a far longer - and more distinguished - history! Artists have made self-portraits since earliest times but it is not until the Renaissance that they become a frequent and important subject.

Artists started to sign their works at this time so became increasingly conscious of their own status and individuality. Some even signed their work with a hidden self-portrait.

The invention of cheaper mirrors also had a part to play. The Mannerist Parmigianino painted his distorted reflection as it appeared in a convex mirror.

With the growing demand for portrait painting, a self-portrait in the artist's studio served as a convenient demonstration of his or her skills in capturing a likeness.

In modern times self-portraiture has taken a more psychological turn. Amongst the best known artists who scrutinised their reflections throughout their oeuvres are Vincent van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. Prior to this, Rembrandt, unusually for his time, made numerous portraits of himself and his family, documenting changes in his face and his fortunes.

The 18th Century sculptor Franz Messerschmidt posed for a number of 'Character Heads'. More recently, Cindy Sherman assumed the identity of Hollywood movie female stereo-types. Anthony Gormley has used his body to represent Everyman in his sculptures.

Join me to explore the fascinating subject of 'Self-Portraiture' in Western Art.