Catalogue published on the occasion of the exhibition “Portraits / Self-Portraits from the 16th to the 21st Century,” presented at Sperone Westwater, New York, 12 January – 25 February 2012.
The breadth of the works in Portraits/Self-Portraits demonstrates that portraiture has been an on-going and reoccurring theme in art history, especially in Western culture, for centuries. The earliest portraits were created to illustrate physical or material attributes of the sitter, which historically included nobility, family, friends, lovers, and the self. According to Angus Trumble, Senior Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art – who has written the essay for the Portraits/Self-Portraits catalogue – in the seventeenth century, the focus of portraiture shifted to capturing the character or essence of the person. Since the Renaissance, there has been a dichotomy between what portraits – many of which were commissioned – represent or elucidate versus the “likeness” of the sitter. Portraits can depict a person’s wealth, power, piety, occupation, time period, cultural and personal interests, as well as emotional states.