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The Self-Portrait

A Cultural History

James Hall

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An engaging history of self-portraiture, from the earliest myths of Narcissus to the prolific self-image-making of contemporary artists

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The self-portrait has become the defining visual genre of our confessional age, but modern artists are far from the first to have exploited its power and potential. In this broad cultural survey, art historian and critic James Hall brilliantly maps the history of self-portraiture, from the earliest myths of Narcissus to the prolific self-image-making of contemporary artists.

His intelligent and 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.


Winner of the Travelling Scholarship Prize from the Society of Authors


'There is never a dull passage in this book: the detail is crisply imparted; the content richly arcane at times, but more usually profoundly human; the ideas come freshly coined. Hall manages to retain the intellectual high ground while writing with verve and enthusiasm.'
Frances Spalding, Guardian

'Fascinating, erudite and beautifully produced'
Sunday Times

'Beautifully designed … delivers original and engaging interpretations'
RA Magazine

'This is really good art history, intelligent, knowledgeable and fired by ideas'
World of Interiors

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 22.9 x 15.2 cm

Extent: 288 pp

Illustrations: 120

Publication date: 24 March 2014

ISBN: 9780500239100

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', and The Artist's Studio: A Cultural History (Thames & Hudson, 2022).