What is Self portrait history purpose and Examples diff with selfie

Self portrait

The simple definition of a self-portrait is a portrait of an artist created by the artist himself. (And in case you were wondering, in art, the definition of “portrait” is a painting, drawing, photograph, or engraving of a person.) 

But if you ask an artist , “What is a self portrait?”, you’re likely to get a more complex answer. For artists, self-portrait art represents the whole artist—in other words, how he sees himself, what he is feeling, and how he wants to be seen by others. It is not necessarily creating a realistic image of yourself; instead, it is often an exercise in self-exploration . 

The art history of the self-portrait 

Curators have found some remains of self-portraits completed during antiquity, in Egyptian , ancient Greek or Roman art.

This is partly because only a small number of paintings survive and due to a lack of evidence about the individual artists involved. Sculptures, being more durable than wall or panel paintings, have survived in greater numbers.

The first self-portraits carved in stone are dated to 1365 BC by Bak, the chief sculptor of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten. Bak, in addition to executing the portrait of Pharaoh Akhenaten (c.1364 BC), may have been responsible for the bust of Nefertiti (c.1350 BC).

Records also suggest that the ancient Greek sculptor Phidias inserted an image of himself into the “Battle of the Amazons” frieze in the Parthenon in Athens.

Flemish, French and German Renaissance

Probably one of the earliest surviving self-portraits we have access belongs to the Flemish painter, Jan Van Eyck (1390 – 1441).

The work is called Man in a Red Turban (Man in a Red Turban); however, we are not sure. Either it is a self-portrait, or an illustration by the author.

In addition, he also painted The Arnolfini Portrait (The Arnolfini couple) , where, supposedly, the groom is modeled on himself. Due to the physical similarities, the two works appear to portray the same man.

At the same time, Jean Fouquet , an important French painter, master in creating panels and illuminations, created the first miniature portrait and, possibly, the first formal self-portrait.

During the German Renaissance, the Nuremberg painter and printmaker Albrecht Durer also produced self-portraits, completing more than a dozen paintings and drawings of himself, in silver, gouache, oils and woodcut.

italian renaissance

Italian painters during the Renaissance tended to avoid producing formal self-portraits; but they often inserted images of themselves into their paintings.

The artist Masaccio appears as an apostle in his frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel; Piero della Francesca is inserted as a soldier in the religious mural about the resurrection of Christ and Michelangelo used his own face when painting Saint Bartholomew in the fresco of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.

We have several other examples, some even more controversial in terms of veracity: Raphael included himself among the characters of the School of Athens , Botticelli used an image of himself in his Adoration of the Magi , it is believed that the Venetian artist Titian portrayed him himself, as well as his son and a young cousin in his Allegory of Prudence.

Baroque / Rococo / Neoclassicism (1600 – 1800)

During this period we had a great impulse in artistic productions. Among the reasons: the growing European commercial power and the sponsorship of the visual arts by the Catholic Church, in order to increase its influence during the Counter-Reformation.

In addition, there is the beginning of easel painting and the widespread use of oils on canvas. As a result, portraits of all kinds—including those of family, friends, groups, and the self—became more common.

As great representatives of this context and style of painting we have the mannerist El Greco, and baroque artists such as the Spaniards Velazquez and Zurbaran, the French academic painter Nicolas Poussin and the Dutch genius Rembrandt — who executed more than 40 self-portraits, widely used both for train students as well as serve as the basis for characters in their larger works.


The two most expensive self-portraits sold at auction are Van Gogh ‘s Portrait of the Artist Without a Beard (1889), sold at Christie’s in 1998 for $71.5 million, and Andy Warhol ‘s Six Self-Portraits (1986), sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2014 for $26.7 million.

What is the purpose of the self-portrait? 

The purpose of a self-portrait largely depends on the artist. For some, it’s about affordability. When asked why she photographed herself, the late Francesca Woodman said: “It’s a matter of convenience. I am always available”. Other famous self-portrait artists started out, at least in part, for similar reasons. 

“I was the easiest and cheapest model to deal with — first looking at my reflection in the mirror and then taking pictures of myself,” explains Athens painter Nikos Gyftakis . 

For other artists, it can be more of an opportunity to play around and experiment with new techniques. When you’re alone, you have all the time in the world and can work without deadlines. Still others use self-portrait art to reshape their sense of self or to encourage self-acceptance. They want to push themselves emotionally to see themselves with a new perspective.

Examples of self portraits

Self portraits can take many forms, from traditional photography to abstract art. Below, we’ll explore examples of self-portrait photography and art by four famous self-portrait artists who specialize in the genre: painter Nikos Gyftakis and photographers Mariell Amélie , Patricia Lay-Dorsey , and Jocelyn Allen . 

The difference between a selfie and a self portrait

Over 93 million selfies are taken every day, but are selfies the same as self-portraits? Most artists would say there is a difference between the two, although they can overlap. 

Traditionally taken at arm’s length or in a mirror, selfies are inherently replaceable. If you don’t like the photo you take, you can take another one right away. For many artists, true self-portraits are more deliberate and introspective, and often take more time and effort to create. 

However, that’s not to say that artists can’t use selfies as a self-portrait. An artist can certainly choose to represent themselves through selfies, but they are generally considered to be two different types of art. 

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