Dec 30

A Face to the World – Laura Cumming

In her book on self portraiture ‘A Face to the World’ Cumming discusses the Vasari corridor at the Uffizi gallery in Florence (which houses a collection of Self-portraits by many famous artists). On p67 she describes many of the self-portraits as “Formal to a fault, but rigorously avoiding anything personal, they end up in opposition to everything that makes self-portraiture interesting: no sense of self, or negotiation between the self and the world, no implied milieu, no distinctive stance, gesture, expression, intellectual or conceptual ideas, just a conformity to type.”

It is interesting that some of the worlds most famous painters, when commissioned to produce a portrait for the corridor, have produced work which, according to this author, has so little to recommend it. Perhaps in this case the context within which the painting will be displayed, the Vasari Corridor, has determined the approach taken by each artist – i.e. a stiff formal pose in deference to the suggested importance of the gallery. It is somewhat paradoxical that a gallery devoted to displaying the finest art has had the effect of squeezing the interest out of a self-portrait.

I think the quote also gives a really good guide to what an interesting self-portrait (or indeed a portrait) should contain

  • a sense of self,
  • a negotiation between the self and the world,
  • an implied milieu,
  • a distinctive stance, gesture, expression,
  • intellectual or conceptual ideas

 

CUMMING, L. (2009) A face to the world: On self portraits. London: Harper Press