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Selfies in Art History

The Selfie. Some people hate it, while others adore it-- or, perhaps I should say they adore themselves. Many argue that the popularity of the selfie proves that humanity is growing dangerously more and more narcissistic.  With the invention of the smart phone, photo editing apps, and the reverse view camera, the ability to control and even manipulate your own image has become readily available to the masses. And, lest we forget, the platform for displaying and sharing these images – on social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter -- has also contributed to this massive trend.

But, let’s face it: we all do it. Why wouldn’t we want the power to control the way we look on the web? It’s Public Relations 101. I mean, we all despise it when our frenemy actually tags us in that awful pic with our eyes closed. When we place ourselves in the public’s hands, we want to make sure that the images out there represent who we feel we are.  We also sometimes take advantage of this platform as a way to communicate a message about ourselves and the world we live in. Guess what…this is old news.An Allegory of Study

So, to all you selfie haters out there, the truth is it’s not a Generation Y phenomenon. The selfie has been around for centuries. The difference is that past “selfies” took the form of self-portraits, and, rather than showing up on your social media wall, they were hung on the physical walls of a home or gallery. We can see some examples of the self-portrait right here at The Ringling.

The handsome young man pictured in An Allegory of Study is thought to be the painting’s creator, Salvator Rosa. One of the most original painters of the 17th century, Rosa was also known to have an extravagant personality. He is said to have contained immense ambition, wit, and a fiery spirit.  In this painting, the dark features and brooding expression hint at Rosa’s personality. It is believed that this selfie is an idealized image of the artist embodying the principles he held dear.

Sappho Inspired

 

 

Angelica Kauffman became one of the most famous women painters of the 18th century. In Sappho Inspired by Love, Kauffman invests her own facial features into the character of Sappho, a famous female Greek poet who became a symbol of women’s achievement in the arts. Kauffman’s selfie is said to be a reflection on her own struggles as a painter in the male dominated profession. 

 

Rubens SelfieThe selfie of Peter Paul Rubens in Pausias and Glycera depicts the artist as Pausias, the ancient Greek painter who became famous for his portrait of Glycera, his beloved. His left hand signals his love for Glycera, while his right holds the work of art he has created in his love’s honor. This wonderful picture celebrates the artistic collaboration between Rubens and Osias Beert, an accomplished still life painter. Beert contributed the wreath and flowers, and Rubens painted the figures that include his self-image.  

While innovative technology has provided us with new modes of artistic expression, the old saying “there’s nothing new under the sun” can apply to the selfie. Artists, celebrities, and even you and I have used the selfie to promote and express ourselves throughout the years. What do your selfies say about you?

The next time you visit The Ringling, take a selfie in front of one of your favorite paintings in the permanent collection and tag it: #theringling.

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