Annibale Carracci - Self-Portrait on Easel

by Alexandra Tuschka


This painter does not lack self-confidence! Directly, although a little apathetic, Carracci looks at us from the canvas in the picture. The latter's self-portrait stands present and illuminated in the center of the picture. The contrast with the rest of the surroundings, blurred by the impasto, low-contrast application of paint, is thus enhanced. We are probably in a studio room, the wooden easel is clearly worked out as the center of the picture, also by the lighting. This effect is reflected once again in the small canvas arranged on it. The painter's face is brightly lit and clearly outlined, while his clothes and the background are blurred. Behind it, but less sharply, we see an open window whose light highlights the silhouette of a figure. It seems to be broad daylight. The figure is also rendered in light hues and abstracted so that it is only dimly discernible and appears almost unfinished. Since here the artist and the model are one and the same person, it stands to reason that it could be the latter who, after his work is done, is looking for new inspiration in the outside world or is simply resting. At the foot of the easel a dog and a cat can be seen. The insertion of the animals alludes to the well-known painter's contest between the ancient painters Zeuxis and Parrhasios. Both wanted to determine who was the greater artist of their time. Zeuxis came out on top by making his grapes - painted on the canvas - look so real that birds came to eat them; Parrhasios, however, won the duel by painting a curtain on the canvas. This appeared so realistic that even Zeuxis was fooled, as the latter wanted to pull it away. The animals in this painting also seem to acknowledge the authenticity of the sitter and seek his direct proximity.

The Italian painter Carracci chose himself as a model and thus also as a work of art. This choice of motif reveals the new self-image of Renaissance artists. No longer - as in the Middle Ages - were they regarded as craftsmen who were basically interchangeable; each artist expressed his identity and his own signature in his works. Self-portraits strengthened this development. At the end of the 15th century, the first self-portraits expressing this new self-awareness are known. Then, in the 16th century, the "studio picture" developed into an independent subgenre, showing the painter at work or in his work environment. In this work, Carracci unconventionally combines the already related genres of studio painting and self-portrait.


Early on in Italy there were rooms that functioned as studios. In addition, wealthy artists and patrons had the "studioli". This was an autonomous space where cultured viewers could meet and which was used exclusively for reflection on art objects. For example, we know about Tintoretto that he worked in a workshop but searched for ideas in his studioli. However, hardly any illustrations have come down to us in which artists portrayed themselves in these rooms. Apparently, this representation was without added value, since there was only a small market for such motifs. Although we know one of the first of these studio pictures with Vasari and one of the most unconventional with this Carracci, it was by no means the Italians who provided the numerous workshop and studio pictures that have come down to us. Quantitatively, the northern alpine artists - first and foremost the Dutch - far surpassed the Italians in this subject.


Annibale Carracci - Self-Portrait on Easel

Oil on canvas, 1605, 37 x 32 cm, Gallery of the Uffizi in Florence