In 1497, the great artist Michelangelo once exclaimed the fundamental phrase, ???Every painter paints himself??™. In this particular statement, Michelangelo was referring to the heart and soul of every artist being deeply embedded in each of their works. However, although an artist may bare some resemblance to certain figures among their pieces, the likeness is incomparable to the explicit honesty captured in a self-portrait. The self-portrait is certainly one of the most direct means in which art can directly address the human condition. Through the self-portrait, artists are able to put various aspects of their lives on display, giving viewers an authentic insight to their character, identity and interests. Two famous artworks that effortlessly display the characters of their creators are Frida Kahlo??™s ???The Broken Column??™, which tells her tale of sadness and suffering; and Albrecht Durer??™s ???Self-Portrait 1500??™ that gives an excellent insight into just how Durer perceived himself.
Frida Kahlo??™s ???The Broken Column??™ (1944), is one of many insightful yet somewhat disturbing self-portraits she painted over the course of her career. Born and raised in Mexico City in the early 20th century, Kahlo was self-taught and her paintings show a similar style to many surrealist artists of her time. ???The Broken Column??™, one of Kahlo??™s more notable portraits, is a captivating portrayal of the horrific pain she was suffering at that point and time in her life and effortlessly gives viewers a deeper understanding into her being. The oil portrait was painted on a medium sized canvas, 17 inches long by 13 inches wide, and is only one of an estimated 55 self-portraits she managed to paint over the duration of her 47-year life. A large figure, being Frida Kahlo herself, dominates the centre of the painting. A gaping trough runs along the middle of her torso and in place of a spine, a large, broken column appears to be crumbling under her weight. Her upper body is consumed by a large white brace, and a flowing sheet adorns the lower half of Kahlo??™s body. Piercing nails cover her naked body, face, and a portion of the sheet; the largest of which is placed directly over her heart. Tears pour from her eyes and her long dark hair runs behind her shoulders. Interestingly, Kahlo has also chosen to include her prominent mono-brow in the portrait; she is very much known for painting everything exactly how she herself saw things to be. A stormy blue sky overlooks a stark, barren landscape, scattered with troughs somewhat similar to the one seen marching through the centre of the body.
The painting is almost symmetrical, with the dominant focal point being quite rightly Frida Kahlo herself. The overall mood of the work is one of sadness and despair. This is achieved through the artist??™s ability to evoke empathy in viewers for her obviously broken state.
Kahlo??™s artwork is a terrific representation of the pain she suffered both mentally and physically over the course of her life. Many motives lie behind Frida Kahlo??™s portrait, one in particular being the horrific crash she endured that left her all but dead. When she was only 18 years of age, Frida was involved in a violent bus accident that severely damaged both her reproductive ability and her spine, and left her in unspeakable pain for the remainder of her adult life. It is this terrible pain Frida captures in her artwork. In 1944, when the portrait was painted, Frida was constrained to an iron corset in order to support her damaged spine. This corset in the painting appears to be all that holds her broken body upright, and prevents the broken column, symbolism of her shattered spine, from crashing to the ground. It can also be suggested that this barren landscape behind her is representative of her ???barren??™ body. After the accident, Frida was unable to have children and suffered many miscarriages as consequence. The nails covering Frida??™s body symbolise this physical pain she continued to endure after the accident; and the largest nail, over her heart, is said to symbolise the cruel and twisted emotional pain caused by her husband- fellow artist- Diego Riviera, who Kahlo very much resented. ???Every time I talk with you I end up dying more, a little more???. Unlike many of her self-portraits, Kahlo is this time standing in tears and alone, perhaps saying she is forced to deal with her unbearable pain on her own.
Frida Kahlo??™s portrait tells a lot about the trials and tribulations facing her at the time and seamlessly communicates her character with the wider world. However, Kahlo is not alone in capturing and displaying her identity through her work, as many other artists effortlessly address the human condition through the means of self portrait; another such artist being Durer.
Born in 1471 in Nuremburg, then part of the Holy Roman Empire, Albrecht Durer is renown for being one of the very first recorded artists to paint a self-portrait. At that time it was thought of as very risky and arrogant for an artist to depict himself in anyway, and before this time if an artist did paint himself in an image he would of course keep it anonymous. Durer had the confidence, and certainly the arrogance to challenge this way of life and spark a whole new flame in the world of art. It is obvious that Durer had no problem glorifying himself through his artwork, as ???Self Portrait 1500??™, his last painted self-portrait, shows. As said in the title of the piece, Durer??™s self-portrait was painted in 1500 when Durer was only 28 years of age. The portrait is painted on wood panel with gold hues and overtones and relatively even lighting. The majority of the artwork is occupied by the grand painting of Durer, with only a fraction of the piece being a darkened background with small, fine, gold print. This darkened background contrasts with the painting of Durer and further makes the already stunning artist stand out. Durer??™s portrait faces viewers front on, with the eyeline of the character staring directly at the audience. He has wrapped himself in a large and elegant fur coat, and luscious golden brown curls flow gracefully around him. Albrecht Durer??™s last portrait is certainly the most captivating and iconic of the three he has created, and it should be noted that in each successive portrait he paints himself in a more elegant, supreme and flattering light. Unlike Frida Kahlo??™s ???Broken Column??™, Durer??™s portrait does not paint an image of pain and suffering but instead gives viewers an excellent insight into his character. Durer??™s work has been described as ???The single most arrogant, annoying and gorgeous portrait ever created.??™(Thomas Hoving). His remarkable talent was not only evident to others but Durer himself saw his gift as ???god given??™, imprinting on the upper right hand side of his work, “Thus I, Albrecht Durer from Nuremburg, painted myself with indelible colors at the age of 28 years.” His portrait unmistakably resembles many earlier representations of Christ, evident through both the manner in which Durer raises his hands to the middle of his chest as if in the act of blessing, and through the way in which he has painted himself to stare directly at viewers, just as Christ was depicted to have done in numerous paintings only a short while earlier. Further evidence that suggests Durer intended to paint his self-portrait in the image of Christ is the sudden change of his hair colour between portraits, from reddish blonde to golden brown; golden brown being the colour of Jesus Christ??™s hair in many earlier interpretations. It can be argued that by painting himself in the image of Christ, Durer is either regarding his talent as ???God Given??™ or acknowledging himself as a creator of magnificent works alongside Christ. No matter Durer??™s intention here, it is plain and clear that he thought very highly of himself. His marvelous piece ???Self Portrait 1500??™ is yet more verification that an artist??™s identity and character is undoubtedly portrayed through his self-portrait.
Although both Frida Kahlo and Durer manage to expose and communicate their character and identity through their self-portraits, the motives behind each of the artworks vary greatly. Through each of their paintings we are given almost explicit insight into Kahlo and Durer??™s individual worlds. Unlike landscapes and portraits of others, the self portrait truly allows artist??™s to capture the open and honest emotions and experiences that have influenced and shaped their character; sufficiently validating the statement that the self portrait is one of the most direct and effective means by which art can address the human condition.