Universal principles of depicting oneself across the centuries : From Renaissance self-portraits to selfie-photographs

Faculty/Professorship: General Psychology and Methodology  
Author(s): Carbon, Claus-Christian  
Title of the Journal: Frontiers in psychology
ISSN: 1664-1078
Publisher Information: Lausanne : Frontiers Research Foundation
Year of publication: 2017
Volume: 8
Pages: 9
Language(s): English
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00245
Selfie-photography is generally thought of as a cultural mass phenomenon of the early 21st century, inseparably related to the development and triumph of the smartphone with integrated camera. Western culture, however, has been highly familiar with self-depictions since the Renaissance days. Putting the contemporary selfie into this historic context covering more than five centuries of cultural development from Dürer's (1500) famous “Self-Portrait at 28” (also known as “Selbstbildnis im Pelzrock”) to today's Instagram galleries allows for identifying central parallels concerning the technical and social antecedents as well as common underlying psychological factors and shared properties of different kinds of self-depiction. The article provides an overview of the types of contemporary photographic selfies and compares them with painted self-portraits. Finally, this historic perspective leads us to the insight that self-portraits as well as selfies are both referring to nothing less than the “conditio humana.”

When Albrecht Dürer signed his famous self-portrait with his imposing monogram “AD” in 1500 (see Figure 1) he did not just finish a masterwork, but set the foundation for a quite persistent cultural phenomenon: the phenomenon of self-depiction or, as we would call it today, the selfie. In the following article I will show that Dürer and other great self-portraitists expressed themselves using universal principles that are also reflected in today's selfie-photography. Taking a historic perspective I will compare self-portraits and selfies in order to elaborate on differences and commonalities, finally showing that these different kinds of self-depiction are referring to nothing less than the “conditio humana”—specifically, the basic cognitive and affective human needs.
Keywords: selfie, art history, self-portrait, Albrecht Dürer, Renaissance, painting, photograph, human condition
Peer Reviewed: Ja
International Distribution: Ja
Open Access Journal: Ja
Type: Article
URI: https://fis.uni-bamberg.de/handle/uniba/56336
Release Date: 11. November 2022
Project: Open-Access-Publikationsfonds 2012-2020