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Unit information: Self Portraiture in 2014/15

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Unit name Self Portraiture
Unit code HART30037
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Cervantes
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of History of Art (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The unit explores the history and significance of the phenomena of self-portraiture and autobiography among artists. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, artists inserted themselves into their work with an increasing consciousness of their status and the possibility of achieving both present and posthumous fame. Concurrent with and stimulated by the practice of biographical writing, among the most important and influential being Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists (1550, 1568) and Benvenuto Cellini’s autobiography (1562), the sixteenth century also saw the rise of autonomous self-portraits, and, in the seventeenth century, the establishment of self-portraiture as a genre in its own right. The unit will also consider the autobiographical impulse of artists (encapsulated in Leonardo’s dictum ‘every painter paints himself’) in connection with broader intellectual and philosophical developments in the history of selfhood and identity.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have developed: (1) a wider knowledge of the origins of the phenomenon of self-portraiture and its links to changing notions of the self and human autonomy; (2) the ability to analyse and generalise about complex artistic and intellectual debates; (3) the ability to select pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate more general issues and arguments; (4) the ability to derive benefit from, and contribute effectively to, large group discussion; (5) the ability to identify a particular academic interpretation, evaluate it critically, and form an individual viewpoint.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour interactive lecture per week.

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 3000 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours comprising 2 questions out of 8 (50%).

Reading and References

Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (1980) Martin Kemp, ‘Equal Excellences: Lomazzo and the Explanation of Individual Style in the Visual Arts’ (1987) Joseph Leo Koerner, The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art (1997) John Martin, ‘Inventing Sincerity, Refashioning Prudence: The Discovery of the Individual in Renaissance Europe’ (1997)