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Self Indulgent Portraits Ain’t Nothing New

November 19, 2009

I’m on the cusp generationally speaking, and I find this manifests itself in strange ways. For example: my thoughts on self-portraits. My Gen X sensibilities think that this hobby of Gen Y is self-absorbed and indulgent and frankly a little perplexing. When I started using the internet you never put up photos (because you had to have a scanner, and we did, but it was like a paint roller and if you twitched slightly while scanning you stuck a bit of a wave right in the middle of your scan) and you never used your real name. HOWEVER, as you’ve probably noticed, lately my Gen Y tendencies are surfacing and I’ve become quite a fan of the old digital self portrait. In fact you should see my Photo Booth folder- it’s disgustingly self-centered. So I’m conflicted. I take and like and post these morsels and then feel all guilty and concerned that I should be like this, so damn…. vain!

Well, bollocks I say. Being self-indulgent ain’t nothing new and there isn’t anything wrong with it (well, not entirely) so in celebration of this form of expression, here are my favorite vanity artworks from art history:

Pauline Borghese as Venus (1805-1808) by Antonio Canova.

Ah, Pauline, dear sweet Pauline. She was Napoleon’s Sister and so fancied herself she had a great artist carve her likeness in marble, thinly disguising the half naked portrait with the apple- a reference to Venus, the Goddess of Love. By adding the apple, the boobies are made acceptable by context. A naked Pauline would not have been acceptable. Naked Venus= YES. Naked Lady with no mythological or literary references= NO.

Louis XIV, aka The Sun King

Aka King of the Self (commissioned) Portrait

The Rising Of The Sun

The Setting Of The Sun

Louis XIV, former French King and bon vivant, commissioned many a portrait. These two from François Boucher depicting himself as the Sun. Conceited, much? (aside: I adore these paintings so much that it’s unhealthy)

Louis XIV, Hyacinthe Rigaud, Paris, ca. 1701

The dude had big hair, snappy duds and loved getting pics of himself painted. I think he’d be right at home on the interwebz. Ok, so picking on a king is a bit unfair, it’ part of his job to commission portraits for various reasons: to show how totally grand and awesome he is, to encourage the arts, and to create likenesses to be spread about his kingdom. His peeps need to see what he looks like (or what he wants to look like!). But Louis XIV was wholly self indulgent anyway, so he still counts. Come on, the man made Versaille as grand as it is, it’s like an aggrandizing self portrait in architectural form.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon on His Imperial Throne- Ingres

Napoleon Crossing The Alps- Jaques Louis David

I know, I know, these paintings have a purpose as propaganda for Napoleon’s regime so they’re not entirely self-indulgent. But STILL, the man was undeniably conceited.

So there you go. All of us who take ridiculous vanity self-portraits and post them on the internet are part of a long and honorable tradition followed by kings, queens, emperors and nobles. Wooo! I don’t feel bad at being so shallow now.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2010 9:47 am

    Hey very nice blog!!….I’m an instant fan, I have bookmarked you and I’ll be checking back on a regular….See ya 🙂

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