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The Self-Portrait

A Cultural History

James Hall


A many-faceted history of self-portraiture, telling the history of the artworks that offer the deepest insights into an artist’s personal, psychological and creative world

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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.

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'There is never a dull passage in this book ... Hall manages to retain the intellectual high ground while writing with verve and enthusiasm '
Frances Spalding, Guardian

'Wide-ranging, richly researched and evocatively illustrated … It is as varied, revelatory and idiosyncratic as the genre which it takes as its subject'
The Times

'Fascinating, erudite and beautifully produced'
Sunday Times

'Enthralling … Scattering insights on all sides, Hall’s narrative advances through the centuries with masterly vigour'

'Stimulating … Hall writes with energetic freshness … a highly engaged book that raises many questions about this intriguing and still-active genre. It deserves to be widely read'
Literary Review

'Spirited … the book’s readability and the depth of research give it an engaging pace that makes it especially refreshing'
The Art Newspaper

'Lively ... Hall's range of reference is polymathic and his writing often pithy'
Daily Telegraph

'A stimulating and demanding book that requires an equally serious engagement from any reader ... There's no questioning the scholarship that lies behind this book'
The Spectator

'Hall's boundless curiosity explodes in all directions from the relatively few pages he has been allocated. Mostly we want more: more detail, more explanation and many more pictures. Given that this is a chunky and well-illustrated volume, that is meant as high praise'
Andrew Marr, New Statesman

'Hall's writing is not only accessible for a general audience, but filled with notable insights, including spicy, prurient ones'
The Daily Beast

'A graceful, sure-footed exposition, both authoritative and entertaining, of a long thread in cultural history ... I was hooked'

'A textured biography of the genre, where familiar works cohabit easily with esoteric ones, veined by richly-detailed, penetrating observations'
Sunday Business Post

'Exceptionally rich in detail'
Good Book Guide

'Detailed and informative ... a serious and scholarly work that nevertheless retains the reader's interest and attention and is generously and thoughtfully illustrated'
Art Book Review

'Beautifully designed ... (Hall) delivers original and engaging interpretations'
RA Magazine

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Paperback

Size: 22.9 x 15.2 cm

Extent: 288 pp

Illustrations: 120

Publication date: 24 August 2015

ISBN: 9780500292112

Contents List

Introduction • Prelude: Self-Portraiture in Antiquity • 1. Medieval Origins • 2. A Craze for Mirrors • 3. The Artist in Society • 4. The Renaissance Artist as Hero • 5. Mock- Heroic Self-Portraits • 6. The Artist’s Studio • 7. At the Crossroads • 8. Coming Home: Into the Nineteenth Century • 9. Sex and Genius • 10. Beyond the Face: Modern and Contemporary Self-Portraits

About the Author

James Hall is an art critic, historian, lecturer and broadcaster. He was formerly Chief Art Critic of The Sunday Correspondent and of the Guardian. He contributes to the Guardian Saturday Review, The Times and Times Literary Supplement, as well as to many magazines and catalogues. He is the author of several books including The Self-Portrait: A Cultural History (Thames & Hudson, 2014), which the Sunday Times hailed as 'fascinating, erudite and beautifully produced'.