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7 famous artists who hid self-portraits in their paintings

Maxim of the Renaissance “Every artist paints himself”, expressed in the XV century, has not lost relevance in our days. For centuries, in addition to simple self-portraits, painters have left secret signatures on their canvases and inserted their images into the works — sometimes in a very unexpected and inventive way.

This sense of self-worth among artists arose in the Renaissance with its humanistic values, proclaiming the importance of the individual and creativity. During this period, two types of hidden self-portraits appeared in Europe. In Italy, artists usually placed their images on the right side of paintings or altars, and their gaze was consciously turned to the viewer.
Sandro Botticelli. Adoration of the Magi
Painting “Adoration of the Magi” (1475) with the representatives of the Medici clan depicted on it. The far right is believed to be Sandro Botticelli portrayed himself.
Artists of the Northern Renaissance, unlike their southern colleagues, liked to play with difficult to understand symbols and demonstrate their technical skills. The self-portraits they reproduced in their paintings were usually distorted reflections on surfaces like metal utensils or mirrors.

Traditions, whose roots go back to the Golden age of painting, passed into the era of modernism and have survived to the present day. Here we present seven — only a small part-of the self-portraits that the artists have hidden in some of their famous works.

Jan van Eyck
1434, 82×60 cm
One of the most mysterious paintings in the history of Western art is very entertaining for the curious viewer. In a sumptuous double portrait, Jan van Eyck painstakingly depicted references to the wealth of his characters and other symbolic details, most of which lie in a small round mirror behind the couple. For example, it reflects two more figures entering the room.
Jan van Eyck. Portrait of the Arnolfini couple (fragment)
Portrait of the Arnolfini couple (fragment)
Jan van Eyck
One thousand four hundred thirty four
The host raises his hand, perhaps in greeting — and the gesture is returned to him by one of the men in the mirror (according to another version, Arnolfini says the oath in front of witnesses). Directly above the mirror is the inscription: “Jan van Eyck was here.” Does this mean that the figures in the reflection — the artist himself and his assistant, who visited the customers? It’s one of the great mysteries of art history.
Raphael Santi, the school of Athens (1509 / 1511)
Rafael Santi. The school of Athens. Fresco of the stanza della senyatura of the Vatican Museum
The school of Athens. Fresco of the stanza della senyatura of the Vatican Museum
Rafael Santi
1511, 770×500 cm
The famous fresco of Raphael, painted on the wall of the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican — is an ode to philosophy. Many revered ancient thinkers — from Pythagoras to Ptolemy-inhabit the vaulted marble hall with columns and coffered ceilings.

The mural is a veritable who’s who guide to the intellectual elite of the Renaissance; Raphael linked his era to the illustrious past. According to Giorgio Vasari, in the images of ancient philosophers, he depicted his contemporaries. Donato Bramante, bent over a slate, is Euclid or Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to have become the embodiment of Plato, and Michelangelo may represent Heraclitus. The artist could not resist including himself in the collection — Raphael’s curious face Peeps out from behind an arch in the far right corner of the fresco, next to Ptolemy and Zoroaster (see Fig. the main illustration of the article).

Michelangelo, the Last judgment (1536 / 1541)
Michelangelo Buonarroti. The last judgment, a General view
The last judgment, a General view
Michelangelo Buonarroti
1530th, 137×120 cm
Michelangelo Buonarroti. Self-portrait on the wall of the Sistine chapel
Michelangelo, self-portrait on the wall of the Sistine chapel

It is well known that Michelangelo was disgusted with the order to paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in the Vatican. In a poem to a friend written in 1509, the temperamental artist spoke of the long hours he spends lying on his back: “My brush is all the time above me, it drips paint, so that my face turned into a beautiful surface for litter!”

Eventually, one of the pillars of the Renaissance was able to wittily Express his disappointment — and have fun at the expense of the Pope-when he painted the fresco “Last judgment” for the altar wall of the chapel. In the center of the large-scale painting of St. Bartholomew holds a human skin (during the test of faith with the Apostle skinned, and then beheaded) with a blank and terrible face of Michelangelo.

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Caravaggio, “David with the head of Goliath” (1609 / 1610)
Until his untimely death at the age of 38 years Caravaggio presented himself in many guises, most often — in the form of the Greek God of wine Bacchus. In the last year of his life, he decided to include a self — portrait of David holding the severed head of Goliath, one of several versions of biblical history written during his career. At this stage, the artist introduced an unexpected, emotional nuance to the usually bloody, dark parable of the mighty against the right.
Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio. David with Goliath’s head
David with Goliath’s head
Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio
1610, 125×101 cm
Here Caravaggio is not a young, handsome David, but a defeated Goliath, whose slack-jawed mouth testifies to his complete defeat. In turn, David, who looks at his trophy, does not look happy with the victory, but somewhat pensive and sad, perhaps even regretting. Scientists have suggested that the young hero posed Cecco, apprentice and alleged lover of Caravaggio. If so, there is an unexpected psychosexual background to the film, which is enhanced by David’s sword placed between his legs.
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Clara Peters, ” still Life with cheeses, almonds and pretzels “(circa 1615)
Clara Peters. Still life with cheese, almonds and pretzels
Still life with cheese, almonds and pretzels
Clara Peters
1615, 34.5×49.5 cm
Dutch still lifes seem simple, but often involve complex reflections on life and death. And if the technical complexity of the genre and its intellectual features could become an obstacle for artists, in the XVII century it succeeded women. One of the most talented masters of still life of his time was Clara Peters.

Self-portrait of Clara Peters in the painting “still Life with cheeses, almonds and pretzels “(approx. 1615)
Many Dutch artists of the era painted luxurious compositions with oysters, pies, overseas fruits and pepper grains on silver and gold plates. But Peters preferred images of modest local dairy products, such as cheese and butter, with peasant bread. However, she couldn’t resist showing off her artistic prowess in one of the still lifes with lots of cheeses, almonds and delicately twisted pretzels. On the pewter lid of the ceramic vessel, Peters carefully applied her self-portrait, which exactly follows the curves of the object. Instead of a signature by the artist “cut out” your name on a silver butter knife.
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Jacques-Louis David, “Coronation of Napoleon in Notre Dame Cathedral” (1806 / 1807)
The French neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David is an interesting figure in the history of revolutionary France. Despite his role in the overthrow of the monarchy, after the war he shrewdly demonstrated loyalty to Napoleon, becoming the Royal artist and the Emperor’s chief propagandist.
Jacques-Louis David. Coronation of Emperor Napoleon I and coronation of Empress Josephine at Notre Dame de Paris, 2 December 1804
Coronation of Emperor Napoleon I and coronation of Empress Josephine at Notre Dame de Paris, 2 December 1804
Jacques-Louis David
1807, 621 x 979 cm
Napoleon personally commissioned David to capture his magnificent coronation of 1804 in a monumental historical canvas that conveys a powerful political signal of power. Today, this work of art dominates the great hall of the Louvre. It is so massive that the figures seem to be painted life-size, and the viewer may seem as if he is in a festively dressed crowd watching Napoleon crown Josephine.

Fragment of the painting “the Coronation of Napoleon in the Cathedral of Notre Dame” with a self-portrait of Jacques-Louis David
David himself sits on a dais in a theater box in the center of the composition, sketching a scene among velvet, fur and satin-clad members of the Imperial family and other aristocrats. The artist actually attended the coronation ceremony at Notre Dame. The fact that he included himself in the final composition shows his loyalty to the crown and hints at the undeniable power of artistic achievement.
Paul Gauguin, ” the Sleeping baby. Etude ” (1881)
Impressionists and art Nouveau artists often included themselves in their paintings; they often inhabited their own scenes in Parisian cafes, bars and parks. For example, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec depicted himself in the background of the painting “At the Moulin Rouge” (1892 / 1895), in one of his favorite institutions.
Paul Gauguin. Sleeping baby. Sketch
Sleeping baby. Sketch
Paul Gauguin
One thousand eight hundred eighty one
But in his sketch “Sleeping baby” Paul Gauguin used a strange approach to self-portrait. By the bed of the sleeping child stands a terrible jester doll, almost alive. Look closely at his face, and you will see that this clown — Gauguin himself. Perhaps the artist shows the toy as a fragment of children’s dreams. If so, they are more nightmare than fantasy.

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