Throughout the history of art, there have been many artists who experimented with creating self-portraits. It’s been around for a least hundreds of years, if not more! Some of these portraits are simply artists trying to discover themselves and their image, while others aim to portray their true emotions and feelings through the paintings. There can also be propagandist motives for self-portraits, showing that certain artists have the ability to create extremely good art (self-promotion and enhancement). It truly shows the adventure of the artists, how they aimed to discover themselves and express themselves.
Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight Years Old
Wearing a Coat with Fur Collar, 1500
There are a few self-portraits of Dürer, but this is one of my favorites. This work is a clear and precise, and many scholars believe her that he appears similar to Christ, almost like he is impersonating him. This can be seen through the hand gesture, curly hair, mustache and beard, and ideal proportion. An example he may have been influenced is Blessed Christ by Hans Memling created in the late 15th century. The way I view this, however, is that maybe Dürer is instead portraying himself in the image of Christ. Possibly being influenced by Genesis 1:27 : “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” Of course, I’m no scholar but the nerd in me hopes for this! In addition, it’s interesting to see how he uses a black background and directs the light onto this face, showing that the focus is only on him. On his right (our left), he included his signature seen on most of his works. On his left (our right), Dürer included the inhibition: “Thus I, Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg, made an image of myself, in appropriate colors, in my twenty-eight year.”
Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889
Having seen a multitude of self-portraits that van Gogh made, I decided to portray this one. Instead of picking a self-portrait such as his most famous self-portrait painting in 1889, I decided this is one that truly reflects van Gogh’s mental illness. There are some people who admire the works of van Gogh but don’t understand the struggle that he went through in his life. It is said that van Gogh ended up cutting his ear and gave a women (who was believed to be a prostitute) named Rachel his ear. Then he told her to “guard this object with [her] life.” This painting was created two weeks after the cutting of his ear. In this painting, van Gogh is wearing a greenish fur coat and blue/black hat, suggesting that it may be winter. In the background, the window appears to be open. This painting may be a mirror image since here his right ear is damaged when, in reality, his left ear was damaged. Additionally, the picture behind him may be a Chinese woodblock print, since van Gogh was highly into Japanese art. In July 188, he wrote that: “All my work to some extent is based on Japanese art.”
Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas, 1939
As well as with van Gogh’s self-portraits, I struggled in picking one that reflected Frida Kahlo. However, I decided to pick this one since her she focuses on the roots of identity. Presented are two Fridas, and each is meant to represent her. One of the figures is dressed in a European style dress. The other figure is dressed in a Tehuana dress, which is typical in Mexico. Scholars claim that these two representations of Frida are showing her German heritage through her father, and her Mexican/Mestizo heritage through her mother. There is also another theory that refers to her ex husband. When Kahlo created this painting, she had just divorced her husband, Diego Rivera. Their history, throughout both their lives, are extremely difficult and complicated, but they did love each other. This painting may have been showing how her ex husband admired her more when she expressed/acknowledged her Mexican heritage and ignored her European one. Additionally, both Fridas are connected, but one has cut her vessel on the European dress. This painting definitely shows the pain and strain that she felt. This pain may have come from the divorce with her husband, and/or it may have come from her constant struggle between accepting her German and Mexican heritage, which were so different but it made her who she was.
The use of self-portraits by artists is also interesting. Especially since it allows other to gain a look into the way the artists feel about themselves, and how they portray this.
Anthony van Dyck, Self-portrait with a sunflower, 1632-1633