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     A self-portrait is a drawn, engraved, painted, photographed or sculpted representation of an artist by himself. Self-portraits have been a common art form since the Renaissance, a period when artists had a prominent part in society and when a distinct interest in the individual as a subject arose.

Portraits of William Hogarth

Here are two self-portraits of William Hogarth, a famous eighteenth century English painter and engraver. The first was engraved in 1749 and represents the artist with his pug-dog trump. The second one was published in 1758: it is a full length portrait of himself painting the Comic Muse.

Key questions

1) A portrait often suggests the social status or occupation of the subject through the representation of tools, specific garments, symbols, emblems… Is it true of these two self-portraits?

William Hogarth was a famous satirist and caricaturist. In what way does he make fun of himself in the first portrait? (observe the dog carefully and compare it to its master)

Compare the two self-portraits. In what way can the second one be considered as a mise en abyme of artistic creation?

Triple Self-Portrait by Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell was a famous 20th-century American painter and illustrator. He painted this self portrait for a cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1960. It was inspired by Johannes Gumpp's self-portrait (1646).

Key questions

1) Look at the famous self-portraits pinned onto the top right hand corner of the canvas. Can you recognize some of them? Use the internet to identify them (you can start by typing ‘self-portrait’ in Google Images).

2) What does the presence of these famous self-portraits tell us about artistic creation? Is it necessary for an artist to learn from the example of others?

3) Is the image on the canvas strictly identical to the reflection of the painter’s face in the mirror? What does it suggest about the representation of the self? Is it always objective?

4) How does Rockwell visually associate the mirror and the canvas? Does it mean that art is a reflection of reality? Is it an accurate reflection of reality or a biased one?

Mirror Guy by Maxime Roccisano

Maxime Roccisano, introducing himself as Mirror Guy in some of his self-portraits, is a young photographer whose works deal with reflection, perspective and the collusion between natural and artificial/urban elements. He is very much influenced by the cinema and tries to leave enough room for the spectator to tell or make up stories from his photos.

Key questions

1) Like Norman Rockwell, the photographer uses a mirror in his composition. What is the function of the mirror in this self-portrait?

2) In what way does the photograph evoke the highly popular selfies (self-portrait photographs typically taken with a hand-held smartphone)?

3) What elements in the photograph suggest framing? Keeping in mind that a portrait often includes references to the subject’s occupation, how do you account for the importance of frames in the composition?

4) Why is it significant that the image should have no defining exterior frame? What does Maxime Roccisano want to tell us about the scope of photography?
Further readings

- L’autobiographie et les nouveaux outils de communication
Un texte de Philippe Lejeune

- Je de l’écrivain et jeu de l’écriture, discussion avec Alexis Jenni
Lire la transcription de l'entretien, écouter deux nouvelles lues par l'auteur

- La quête du moi au XVIIIème siècle en Angleterre : des philosophes empiristes aux romanciers
Un article de Marion Lopez

- Hugo Hamilton on memory and fiction
Un texte de Hugo Hamilton

- Narration in the Human Mind
Un texte de Siri Husdvedt

- Living, Thinking, Looking
Une interview de Siri Hustvedt

- The Last Hundred Days
Une interview de Patrick McGuinness
Mise à jour le 15 décembre 2014
Créé le 13 novembre 2014
ISSN 2107-7029
DGESCO Clé des Langues