The Self-Portrait A Cultural History

James Hall

“Hall provides a lively cultural interpretation of the genre from the Middle Ages to today. . . . Rather than provide a series of ‘greatest hits,’ he is more concerned with the reasons why artists create self-portraits.” —The Weekly Standard

The self-portrait may be the visual genre most identified with our confessional era, but modern artists are far from the first to have explored its power and potential. In this broad cultural survey of the genre, art historian and critic James Hall brilliantly maps the history of self-portraiture, from the earliest myths of Narcissus and the Christian tradition of “bearing witness” to the prolific self-image-making of today’s contemporary artists.

Hall’s intelligent and vivid account shows how artists’ depictions of themselves have been part of a continuing tradition that reaches back centuries. Along the way he reveals the importance of the medieval mirror craze; the explosion of the genre during the Renaissance; the confessional self-portraits of Titian and Michelangelo; the biographical role of serial self-portraits by artists such as Courbet and van Gogh; themes of sex and genius in works by Munch, Bonnard, and Modersohn-Becker; and the latest developments of the genre in the era of globalization.

Comprehensive and beautifully illustrated, the book features the work of a wide range of artists including Alberti, Caravaggio, Dürer, Emin, Gauguin, Giotto, Goya, Kahlo, Koons, Magritte, Mantegna, Picasso, Raphael, Rembrandt, and Warhol.


James Hall


James Hall is an art critic and historian, currently Research Professor at the University of Southampton. Noted for his versatility and originality, his books include The World as Sculpture; Michelangelo and the Reinvention of the Human Body; The Sinister Side: How Left-Right Symbolism Shaped Western Art; and The Self-Portrait: A Cultural History, which has been translated into five languages. An abridged version, James Hall on The Self-Portrait, marks Thames & Hudson's seventy-fifth anniversary as one of six “timeless” texts. The Artist's Studio: A Cultural History was a Times “Book of the Year.” Hall's essays have appeared in the Burlington Magazine, Oxford Art Journal, and Simiolus. He is a regular contributor to The Art Newspaper and Times Literary Supplement.