Review: The Self Portrait: A Cultural History by James Hall (Thames and Hudson, £19.95)

Review: The Self Portrait:  A Cultural History by James Hall (Thames and Hudson, £19.95)

Review: The Self Portrait: A Cultural History by James Hall (Thames and Hudson, £19.95)

First published in Books
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Today, with the camera on our mobile phones we can make a self portrait in seconds but possibly for different reasons from those created by painters.

This outstanding history of the subject tells of the earliest recorded self portrait being painted by a woman, shown in a manuscript of 1402, a time when mirrors were popular. The author explains the changing traditions of the subject like Durer who, known for his beautiful hair, made sixteen self-images in the heroic tradition whilst Caravaggio mocked himself in his portrayals of Bacchus and Goliath, as did Michelangelo in his ‘Last Judgement’.

The artist within his studio is discussed, as in Velasquez’s Las Meninas where the artist paints himself painting the five-year-old Infanta of Spain with her two maids. Rembrandt’s self image recording his changing age, health and wealth makes up almost twenty per cent of his total production of work, these made in the studio often with varying costume and props.

In the later centuries he covers how artists relate to the tradition of sex within a self portrait as in Bonnard, Tracy Emin and Antony Gormley. This is a magnificent book that will educate and entertain in abundance bringing out the history of fashion and appearance and introducing us to artists of both genders we may not have heard of. The cover alone will make you understand how a painter can sum up character far more readily than any ‘selfie.’

 

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