The Self-Portrait

The Self-Portrait

A Cultural History

  1. James Hall
  • ISBN 9780500292112
  • 22.90 x 15.20 cm
  • Paperback with flaps
  • 288pp
  • 120 Illustrations, 109 in colour
  • First published 2015
‘A wide-ranging, richly researched and evocatively illustrated book … It is as varied, revelatory and idiosyncratic as the genre which it takes as its subject’ – The Times
‘Fascinating, erudite and beautifully produced’ – The Sunday Times


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In this broad cultural survey of self-portraiture, art historian and critic James Hall brilliantly maps the history of the genre, from the earliest myths of Narcissus and the Christian tradition of ‘bearing witness’ to the prolific self-image-making of today’s contemporary artists.

His vivid account shows how artists’ depictions of themselves have been part of a continuing tradition that reaches back for centuries. Along the way he reveals the importance of the medieval ‘mirror craze’; the explosion of the genre during the Renaissance; the confessional self-portraits of Titian and Michelangelo; the role of biography for serial self-portraitists such as Courbet and van Gogh; themes of sex and genius in works by Munch, Bonnard and Modersohn-Becker; and the latest developments of the genre in the era of globalization

The full range of self-portraits is covered here, from comic and caricature self-portraits to ‘invented’ or imaginary ones, as well as key collections of self-portraiture such as that of the Medici in Florence. Throughout, Hall asks why – and when – artists have chosen to make self-portraits, and looks deeply into the worlds and mindsets of the artists who have created them.

Comprehensive and beautifully illustrated, the book features the work of a wide range of artists including Alberti, Caravaggio, Courbet, Dürer, Emin, Gauguin, Giotto, Goya, Kahlo, Koons, Magritte, Mantegna, Picasso, Raphael, Rembrandt and Warhol. Offering a rich and lively history, The Self-Portrait is an essential read for all those interested in this most enduringly popular and humane of art forms.

James Hall is an art historian, lecturer and broadcaster, and is a visiting research fellow at the University of Southampton. Formerly chief art critic of the Guardian, he contributes to publications including The Times Literary Supplement, Guardian, Wall Street Journal and Art Newspaper. Hall is the author of critically acclaimed books including The World as Sculpture: The Changing Status of Sculpture from the Renaissance to the Present Day and The Sinister Side: How Left–Right Symbolism Shaped Western Art.