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see portraitureportraiture,
the art of representing the physical or psychological likeness of a real or imaginary individual. The principal portrait media are painting, drawing, sculpture, and photography. From earliest times the portrait has been considered a means to immortality.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a portrait of an artist executed by himself (for the most part with the aid of one of several mirrors). In a self-portrait, the artist directly expresses his own self-knowledge and evaluation of his own personality, his creative principles. In many self-portraits, the unity of individual and social principles—the artist’s sense of the involvement of his fate with that of generations and classes and with the rise and fall of art—is embodied with great acuity. Often, however, the artist portrays himself only as the most available model for various artistic searches and experiments. Self-portraits were already known among ancient (Phidias) and medieval artists (the 14th-century sculptors Avram of Novgorod and P. Parler in Bohemia). Painters of the early Italian Rennaissance (Masaccio, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Botticelli) often introduced their own protraits into narrative religious compositions. The self-portrait, as a variety of the portrait genre, took form in the 16th century. In the art of the High Renaissance (Raphael, A. Diirer), it expresses the increased social significance of the artist—his self-affirmation; in the art of mannerism—reticence, the instability of the artist’s inner world engendered by the crisis in Renaissance ideals. Finally, the most prominent painters of the late Renaissance (Titian, Tintoretto) disclose to the viewer the dramatic fate of the creative personality defending its spiritual independence. This psychological tension is developed in the self-portraits-confessions of the 17th century where the social aspect of the artist, his relation to the world and society, and his highly dignified position as a fighter for his own convictions is often revealed (N. Pous-sin, P. P. Rubens, and especially Rembrandt, the creator of a series of self-portraits unparalleled in diversity and psychological depth). Self-portraits of the 18th century (J. B. Chardin, J. Reynolds, F. I. Shubin) for the most part transfer the artist into intimate work or domestic surroundings, emphasizing the intellectual efforts of creation, the vigilance of analyzing vision. The prominent artists of the 19th century (J. David, P. O. Runge, O. A. Kiprenskii, G. Courbet, I. N. Kramskoi) not only assert the value of the creative personality and its rich spiritual life, but also see in themselves the embodiment of the typical aspirations of their generation and their social class. On the brink of the 20th century, self-portraits were often chosen for the expression of the personal outlook, the artist’s own pictorially plastic conception (P. Cezanne), his internal spiritual expression (V. Van Gogh, M. A. Vrubel’). In the progressive realistic art of the 20th century (K. Kollwitz, D. Rivera, R. Guttuso) including Soviet art (S. T. Konenkov, M. S. Sar’ian, P. P. Konchalovskii), the best self-portraits express the unity of the personal and the public, the artist’s realization of his social significance.


Gesser, M. Das Selbstbildnis. Zürich, 1961.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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A striking moment questions the very idea of the self-portrait: