There scarcely lives or breaths an artist who hasn't, at one time or another, tried his hand at painting a self-portrait. I did my first one back in 1968 as a brash, young, 22-year-old amateur from a colour, portrait-quality photo back at a time when colour portrait photography was only just beginning to arrive. It was one of the best paintings I'd ever done at the time. I framed it, wrapped it up, and gave it to my wife as a Christmas gift just a few months before we became engaged. Six months later, she married me anyway.
Albrecht Dürer saw himself as Christ-like. Raphael painted himself into his Greek tableau, The School of Athens, Leonardo is reputed to have secreted self-portraits in everything from the Mona Lisa to the Last Supper. Vincent van Gogh's series are more like psychoanalysis than art while Rembrandt grows old before our very eyes in his extended series of painted self-examinations.
One of the more interesting and original self-portraits was done by Michelangelo. It is a most horrifying exposure of a tortured soul. Drooping limply from the hand of a figure just below and to the right of Christ is the flayed skin of St. Bartholomew, martyred by having been skinned alive. Given Michelangelo's peculiar psyche, it is little wonder he so identified with such a figure. Having punished a number of his art critics with recognisable likeness, damming them to hell as lost souls, Michelangelo lets us know that he does not see himself any more favourably than he does them with one of the most unflattering self-portraits any artist ever rendered.
contributed by Lane, Jim
29 January 1998