10 Hidden Self Portraits

A tradition emerged in the Renaissance for the painter to hide a self portrait of themselves in the background of the painting.  Let's look at ten examples of this.

#1- Raphael in The School of Athens

Raphael painted this fresco in the papal apartments at the Vatican at the same time that Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel.  The pope at the time was Pope Julius II and he was having Raphael paint a series of large paintings in all the Papal apartments.

Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-10, Stanza della Segnatura, Papal Apartments, Vatican Museum

The fresco, now known as The School of Athens, shows a variety of famous figures in a classical setting.  Raphael used several of his contemporaries who were artists to represent famous ancient Greek scholars, philosophers, scientists and mathematicians. Among them (circled in red below) are Leonardo da Vinci in the center, Michelangelo seated and a self portrait of Raphael at the far right.

Raphael is looking out at the viewer in a hidden self-portrait, a style that already had a long history in the Renaissance as we can see in some earlier examples.

#2- Lorenzo Ghiberti in The Gates of Paradise

Lorenzo Ghiberti's beautiful bronze set of doors, his second set for the Baptistery of Florence which hung on the east side were dubbed 'The Gates of Paradise' by fellow Florentine Michelangelo.  The viewer would primarily be paying attention to any of the ten large biblical scenes portrayed on the doors.  However Ghiberti actually hid two small self-portraits of himself in the decoration between the large panels. 

The first was a portrait of himself as he looked at the current time, and the second was of him as a young boy looking towards a small portrait of his mother.
Ghiberti, Gates of Paradise, Florence Baptistery, 1425-52

Ghiberti, Gates of Paradise, Florence Baptistery, 1425-52

Andrea Mantegna, The Meeting, Camera degli Sposi, Mantua, 1465-74

Detail with Self-Portrait

#3- Andrea Mantegna in the Camera degli Sposi

Andrea Mantegna is perhaps best known for his 'Camera degli Sposi' (Wedding Chamber) also known as the 'Camera Picta' (Painted Room) in the Ducal Palace in Mantua.  The rooms has frescos along the walls and the ceiling.  Just as Ghiberti did, Mantegna hid a small self portrait among the decorative bands.  Both the painted wall showing the well known meeting scene and a detail of the decorative band are shown above.

#4-  Botticelli in The Adoration of the Magi

Botticelli painted more than one version of the Adoration of the Magi, this one was painted in 1475.

Botticelli, Adoration of the Magi, Uffizi Museum, 1475

Botticelli is thought to be the figure at the far right, looking out at the viewer as seen in the detail below.  Just as in the later Raphael painting the figure is at the far right, and rather than taking part in the action of the painting he is staring out to the viewer's space.  This is a style that would be repeated by other Italian Renaissance painters.

Detail of Botticelli's Self-Portrait in the Adoration of the Magi

#5- Fillipino Lippi in The Dispute with Simon Magus

Lippi, The Dispute with Simon Magus (1481–1482) Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence

The Dispute with Simon Magus (1481–1482) is a fresco in the Brancacci Chapel in the Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, Italy.  The Brancacci Chapel is famous for being the chapel where Masaccio and Masolino first used one point perspective in painting.  The frescos all show scenes from the life of St. Peter.  Lippi studied under Botticelli and this self-portrait has several similarities in the way it is portrayed as Botticelli's in the Adoration of the Magi.

Detail of Lippi self-portrait in The Dispute with Simon Magus in the Brancacci Chapel

#6- Michelangelo in The Last Judgement 

The Last Judgement was painted in 1537-41, he started painting it in the Sistine Chapel 25 years after he had finished painting his famous ceiling frescos.  The act of painting in fresco, especially at the enormous scale of the Sistine Chapel left the artist feeling worn out and drained.  He lets the viewer know as much by including a hidden, and rather grotesque, self-portrait as the flayed skin of St. Bartholomew.  St. Bartholomew is sitting on a cloud just below and to the right of Christ and is holding his flayed skin as a symbol of his own martyrdom. 

Michelangelo, The Last Judgement, 1537-41, Sistine Chapel, Vatican

#7- Sofonisba Anguissola in Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola 

This work dates from the late 1550's and is less a hidden self-portrait than a unique variant on other self portraits.  This painting both showed her own self-portrait and showed the fact that a well known artist had painted her.  However it was extremely clever as it wasn't presented as a straight self-portrait.  The artist even convincingly uses two painting styles to differentiate a person from a painted person.

Anguissola, Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola, 1550's,

#8- Pontormo in the Deposition of Christ from the Cross

Pontormo, Deposition of Christ, 1525-28, Santa Felicita, Florence

What is interesting about Pontormo is that he used his own face to model the majority of his faces on, so there are echos of his features in several figures in both this work and others.  Just as in several of his Florentine Renaissance predecessors he paints himself at the far right and looking out at the viewer. 

This painting is from 1525-28 and was painted in the new style of Mannerism which followed the Italian High Renaissance and was inspired by Michelangelo. 

9- Caravaggio in David with the Head of Goliath 

This painting done in 1609–1610 has another type of grotesque hidden self-portrait.  Caravaggio painted in his own features as those of the severed head of the giant Goliath.  We know that Caravaggio, whose given name was Michelangelo Merisi, was inspired by Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling since the famous gesture of Adam in the ceiling fresco show up in his Calling of St. Matthew.  Perhaps he was also influenced by his macabre self-portrait from the Last Judgement when he painted this hidden self-portrait.

Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, 1609-10, Borghese Gallery, Rome
10- Velázquez in Las Meninas

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656, The Prado, Madrid

Velázquez painted Las Meninas in 1656 while he was the royal court painter for the King of Spain, King Philip IV.  This is one of the best known and most analyzed paintings in art history.  The subject of the work is the princess, Infanta Margarita Teresa and her attendants.  However there are several figures hidden in the painting and the most prominent of those is the painter himself, in partial shadow working at his easel to the left.

The reason that he has included himself in this work has been often discussed, is this a type of artistic calling card, a way to show his importance at court, does he feel he is part of the royal family or is he simply painting a realistic version of all that goes on in the day to day life in the royal court?  Maybe he knows he is creating a slight illusion for the viewer and is giving us a puzzle to sort out.

There are many more hidden self portraits in art history, a clever way for the painter to leave their mark upon their work and include themselves in the interesting scenes they portray.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace

One of the most majestic sculptures ever created is the Winged Victory of Samothrace.  This is truly one of my favorite works of art and I was fortunate enough to have recently seen it when I visited the Louvre while in Paris.

Though the figure is missing both its head and arms it has long been considered to be one of the most moving and inspirational works in the world.

Perhaps the fact that the sculpture is missing key pieces only adds to the Romantic nature of the ancient work, giving it more of a sense of mystery.  The motion of both the wings and the dress billowing in the wind give the work an awe-inspiring element.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace, 200-190 BC, marble,  Louvre, Paris

It was discovered in 1863 by French archaeologist, Charles Champoiseau and within 20 years was brought to the Louvre museum in Paris.  It was found on the Greek island of Samothrace, and is thought to have been created around 200-190 BC. The dating is uncertain but the work has many of the characteristics attributed to Hellenism, the period after Alexander the Great ruled. Alexander's military campaign brought Greek influences east and eastern artistic influences to Greece. Some of the hallmarks of the Hellenistic style include art that is dramatic, theatrical and emotional.  Sculptural poses are typically filled with movement, the figures created showed a wide range of real people rather than just focusing on the idealized beauty of the earlier Greek Classical age.

The Winged Victory, or Nike, was created to stand on the prow of a ship, also sculpted in marble.  The Nike is in an off-white parian marble and the ship in a darker gray lartos marble which came from Rhodes.  The Nike herself is just over 8 feet tall and her place on the ship's prow adds to the height of the work.

In Greek and Roman mythology, the Nike was the Goddess of victory, she was shown as being a winged figure who would fly down from Mount Olympus.  While the Winged Victory of Samothrace is the most well-known depiction, as well as being the largest, many smaller scale figurines and statues of Nike were sculpted in the ancient world.  The main characteristics of the goddess were wings and usually a sense of landing or alighting.

This inspirational work is thought to have commemorated a naval victory, though there are a few theories on which navy and which battle.  One thought was that since the base is from marble found in Rhodes and their army was renowned, it was a Rhodian naval victory. Another theory is that it was related to a Macedonian victory since stylistically it was closer to Macedonian art.

Rather than being in one of the many art galleries in the museum, the Winged Victory sits at the top of a large staircase which provides a perfect vantage point from which to view it.  It is positioned just outside of the Grand Gallery which houses all the Italian Renaissance paintings.  The visitor's view of the work as they climb the staircase only adds to the majestic feeling of the sculpture.

While it is now possible to walk around the sculpture and see it from all sides, it was meant to sit in a niche carved into a hillside which overlooked a temple complex known as the Sanctuary for the Great Gods, and was possibly meant to be seen from one side since the left side is more polished than the right.  Emory University  has done extensive research and excavations of the site at Samothrace including recreating what the Sanctuary would have looked like and how the Winged Victory would have originally been seen. 

During my visit I took several photos to post on my blog, but it is hard to capture the true beauty and monumentality of this work in a photograph. 

The statue has recently been unveiled after a year long conservation process by the museum.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace has inspired countless artists and visitors to the Louvre, much as it must have inspired those who saw it when it was first created in the 2nd century AD.

Upcoming Museum Exhibits for 2015

2015 is an exciting year for some major museum exhibits, here are five exhibits that will be showing in 2015.  If you live in these areas or are planning to travel there make sure to stop in.  I have listed things in various places across the US as well as Vancouver, BC.  I am hoping to visit at least a few of these, and I was fortunate to see one exhibit in Florence before it travels to Los Angeles later this year.

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890). Irises, 1890. Oil on canvas; 29 x 36 1/4 in. (73.7 x 92.1 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
 New York, Gift of Adele R. Levy, 1958 (58.187)

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

May 12–August 16, 2015

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) brought his work in Provence to a close with exuberant bouquets of spring flowers—two of irises and two of roses, in contrasting formats and color schemes—in which he sought to impart a "calm, unremitting ardor" to his "last touch of the brush." Painted on the eve of his departure from the asylum at Saint-Rémy and conceived as a series or ensemble on a par with the Sunflowers decoration painted earlier in Arles, the group includes the Metropolitan Museum's Irisesand Rosesand their counterparts: the upright Irisesfrom the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, and the horizontal Roses from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

This exhibition will reunite the four paintings for the first time since the artist's death and is timed to coincide with the blooming of the flowers that captivated his attention. It will open 125 years to the week that Van Gogh announced to his brother Theo, on May 11 and 13, 1890, that he was working on these "large bouquets," and will provide a singular opportunity to reconsider Van Gogh's artistic aims and the impact of dispersal and color fading on his intended results.

Vancouver Artgallery, Vancouver, BC
June 13 to October 4, 2015

Sandro Botticelli, The Annunciation, c. 1490–95
oil, tempera, and gold leaf on walnut panel
Glasgow Museums; Bequeathed by Archibald McLellan, 1856 (174)
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection
Courtesy American Federation of Arts

With works by some of the greatest names in European art, Of Heaven and Earth examines the thematic and stylistic developments in Italian art–from the religious paintings of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance to the secular neoclassical and genre paintings of the 19th century. The remarkable breadth of the exhibition showcases the outstanding quality of works by figures such as Giovanni Bellini, Sandro Botticelli, Domenichino, Francesco Guardi and Titian alongside other lesser-known masters.

Organized by the American Federation of Arts and Glasgow Museums. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities, the JFM Foundation, and Mrs. Donald M. Cox. Additional funding for the extension of the exhibition tour to the Vancouver Art Gallery is provided by d'Amico Società di Navigazione. In-kind support is provided by Barbara and Richard S. Lane and Christie's.

Diego Velázquez, An Old Woman Cooking Eggs, 1618. Oil on canvas. Scottish National Gallery

Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland

March 7–May 31, 2015 

June 28, 2015 to September 20, 2015

The 55 paintings in the exhibition span a period of more than 400 years (1490–1932) and include some of the greatest holdings of the Scottish National Gallery, Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art—the three institutions that comprise the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The paintings from the Scottish National Gallery include many of the major schools of art—Italian, French and Dutch, in addition to Scottish. Many of these works have never been seen in the United States, including Sandro Botticelli’s Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child (c. 1490), which has not been exhibited outside of Scotland for more than 150 years. Other artists include the Renaissance masters Titian and Paolo Veronese; the 17th-century painters El Greco, Diego Velázquez, Sir Anthony van Dyck, Frans Hals, Jan Lievens, Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer; and such 19th-century figures as Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, John Singer Sargent, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne. The exhibition will also feature celebrated Scottish painters Allan Ramsay and Sir Henry Raeburn.

Paul Cézanne, The Big Trees, ca. 1904. Oil on canvas. Scottish National Gallery

Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World
Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy

March14-June 21, 2015
The Getty Center, Los Angeles,CA

July 28–November 1, 2015

During the three centuries between the reigns of Alexander the Great and Augustus, artists around the Mediterranean created innovative, realistic sculptures of physical power and emotional intensity. Bronze—with its tensile strength, reflective effects, and ability to hold the finest detail—was employed for dynamic compositions, dazzling displays of the nude body, and graphic expressions of age and character. This unprecedented international loan exhibition unites about fifty significant bronzes of the Hellenistic age.

This exhibition was organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington with the participation of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana. It is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. 

Seattle Art Museum

Oct 1 2015 – Jan 10 2016

The Seattle Art Museum is proud to present Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art (in Washington, D.C.). The collection is comprised of extraordinary paintings, considered to be the jewels of one of the finest collections of French Impressionism in the world.

This exhibition will feature 71 intimately scaled paintings by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masters, including Édouard Manet, Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Eugène Boudin, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh, among others. These works, which are prominently presented in the East Wing of the National Gallery, have long been treasured by the museum’s visitors and prized by art historians.

This will be the first time the beloved collection has gone on tour and it is only because the East Wing will be closed for renovation. The majority of works come from the celebrated Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, given to the National Gallery of Art in 1970. This core group is bolstered by works from the Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon Collection and gifts of several other important collectors.

Organized by the National Gallery of Art and curated locally by Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture for the Seattle Art Museum.

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Special exhibitions at SAM are made possible by donors to the SAM Fund for Special Exhibitions and Wells Fargo

Madame Monet and Her Son, 1874, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, 1841-1919, oil on canvas, 19 13/16 x 26 3/4 in., National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.60