neither the real or unreal

Does every artist paint him or herself in a portrait? That is, a representation of the alter-ego. Is Girodet’s Belley portrait a reflection of the artist, following the tradition as almost all the great masters have done before? It’s a controversial portrait, given its divisive subject matter and in the context of the principles of the French Revolution, soon to be betrayed. So, there is hidden meaning here, and the illusion of visual reality as seen in the excessively white bust of Raynal compared with Belley. But to what extent is the portrait an allegory of Girodet’s own mind?

However, in the fifteenth century and particularly in the writings of Leonardo da Vinci “Every painter paints himself” had a different and not at all positive meaning. The notion of “automimesis” was understood by Leonardo as a major defect of contemporary painting and in fifteenth-century literature the Tuscan proverb meant some inevitable compulsion in the human character. As an example I could quote from a collection of Florentine droll stories, once attributed to Angelo Poliziano and written between 1477 and 1479: …

---Leonardo's extremely hostile rejection of "automimesis" and its physiological determination of artistic creation suggests that for him there was more at stake than just the scientific foundation of the fine arts. His almost neurotic attitude towards "automimesis" may tempt us to assume that Leonardo for personal as well as psychological reasons tried to avoid self-expression. And indeed, his psychological profile supports such an interpretation since in his own writings, Leonardo praises solitude and self-control.--- Read More:

…”Cosimo said, that one would rather forget a hundred compliments than one insult and that the offender never forgives and that every painter paints himself.” Read More:

Again, Da Vinci spoke of the almost inevitable impact of the governing soul as the root cause of “automimism” as something intrinsic to the process that could only, at best, be adjusted and its impact mollified through say a technique of variety and of creating the abstract masked as reality. In fact, Girodet makes the idea of the mask a central theme here, as if flirting with visual reality as a decoy that expresses the contradictions in painting situations that require representing emotions which are not easily accessible, well-nigh impossible, though the parallel of the artist as slave, and the artist as different, meaning marginal,  than other members of society would be a theme Baudelaire would later poetically expand on.

---Girodet was the most creatively and unpredictably subversive of all of David's students. Even before he had fully mastered David's reforms, he began to reject the tenets of David's sober rational program, and explore the possibilities of an art that was more imaginative, poetic and above all idiosyncratic.--- Read More:

So, its neither the real or unreal. The portrait is a search in the subconscious to discover the mystery of what is instinctive in our genetic make up. In this sense, the artist does not paint themself, but paints an intangible part of them: their own salvation, a pictorial representation of redemptive qualities and to elevate the subject from sin through a balancing of contradictory instinctive forces. Picasso collapsed this tension through a formalism , modern that glorified form which meant a discarding of the esthetic achievement of art ; significant, since in life opposites seem to be unable to sustain equilibrium. With the Belley portrait, we have, very obviously, the effort to save the sexual sinner from himself as well within an overall narrative that displays the conventional differences between the impulsive, the contemplative and reflective, and the profane.

---This is true of virtually all of Girodet’s "romantic" pictures, including such empirically descriptive works as Young Child Studying His Lessons (1800), one of the earliest attempts to articulate the mental state of a child -- another indication of Girodet’s curiosity and modernity. And genius -- he was a much more authentic, insightful genius than David, who was overly dependent on classicism and thus less trusting of emotional life, which he conveyed inadequately, certainly in comparison to Girodet. --- Read More:


A painter’s choice that can be defined by the Tuscan proverb “Every painter paints himself” is a phenomenon we would call personal style. However, it is not my purpose to discuss here the notion of personal style nor to show the roots of Giovanni Morelli’s method. Instead I would like to analyze a sermon by Gerolamo Savonarola (1497) where the connection between “automimesis” and the use of types in fifteenth-century art is confirmed:

“And one says that every painter paints himself. He does not ind

paint himself as man because he produces images of lions, horses, men and women which are not identical with himself, but he paints himself as painter, that is according to his concept (concetto). And although there are different fantasies and figures of the painters who are painting, they are nevertheless all [done] according to his concept.”

Savonarola emphasizes that a painter does not paint himself physically but produces figures and fantasies according to his own personal “concetto”. In this context the words “figure” and “fantasie” characterize the varied things in a painting whereas “concetto” refers to an unvariable phenomenon, to some innate quality of a painter’s choice that never, or at least hardly ever, changes. The innate quality described by the word “concetto” must have been a compulsion because “concetto” indicates a feature in painting that an artist cannot avoid producing. Read More:

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