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The composition presents a young man with oriental facial features, emanating with sorrow and suffering. He is wearing a decorated dark robe, a royal diadem on his head, and a gold earring in his ear. The painting, in dark tones, was brightened with patches of amber colours for the fragments of the face and shoulders as well as with warm reds for the background.

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The composition presents a young man with oriental facial features, emanating with sorrow and suffering. He is wearing a decorated dark robe, a royal diadem on his head, and a gold earring in his ear. The painting, in dark tones, was brightened with patches of amber colours for the fragments of the face and shoulders as well as with warm reds for the background. By the introduction of a sophisticated range of softly applied patches of colour, combined with the subtleness of chiaroscuro and light reflections, Gottlieb obtained a specific mysterious mood.
When creating the self-portrait, the painter referred to the two figures known under the name of Ahasver, thus allowing for a twofold interpretation of the work. The eastern style of the costume and the royal diadem indicate that this is a representation of Ahasver, the Biblical Persian king, mentioned in the Book of Esther; he guaranteed freedom and privileges for the Jews. Ahasver is also the name of the Jew from a medieval anti-Semitic legend, who refused to help Jesus walk with the cross to Golgotha, for which he was subsequently sentenced to a perpetual exile. The figure of Ahasver, from the work by Gottlieb, can be read as the archetype of the Wandering Jew, the symbol of homelessness of a nation, the deprivation of one’s own roots, perpetual exile. In this way, Gottlieb directed attention to the tragedy of a nation deprived of its own state, simultaneously accentuating the necessity for tolerance. In addition, the anti-Semitic events which took place at the Kraków School of Fine Arts must have influenced the artist to take on this subject. In the wake of these events, despite being defended by Jan Matejko, Gottlieb left Kraków and went to Munich. During a visit at the Old Pinakothek in Munich, he had an opportunity to familiarise himself with the works of Rembrandt, which influenced his choice of themes (Rembrandt frequently used Biblical motifs; he also created a series of self-portraits and Jewish portraits) as well as the form of compositions. It was under his influence that Gottlieb applied strong chiaroscuro effects in his depiction of Ahasver, derived from a hidden source of light, a gold and amber tone melting the contours of the figures, and the atmosphere of concentration and mystery.

Elaborated by Urszula Kozakowska-Zaucha (The National Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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Self-portraits and “selfie” fashion ... The puzzle of the self-portrait

Currently, there is a fashion for self-portraits, popularly called selfies. Anyone can take them — using not even a camera — just a telephone. There is a narcissistic craving in us to show and see our own images. Once, creating a self-portrait was a process. Self-portraiture created the possibility of immortalising one’s image, while fulfilling the function of a tool of self-knowledge and self-reflection.

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Currently, there is a fashion for self-portraits, popularly called selfies. Anyone can take them — using not even a camera — just a telephone. There is a narcissistic craving in us to show and see our own images. Once, creating a self-portrait was a process. Self-portraiture created the possibility of immortalising one’s image, while fulfilling the function of a tool of self-knowledge and self-reflection. This served to explore one’s “I”, to encode information about oneself or play some kind of game with convention … to hide behind an image (Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz). This took various forms. An example of a multiple self-portrait is the painting by Pola Dwurnik: Mercy!. Out of the crowd outlined in the background, twenty-four images of the artist emerge; she is in a different mood and mental state in each.
The earliest known self-portrait was probably created in Egypt, around 2650 BC (Ni-ankh-Ptah). Self-portraiture was a rare phenomenon in antiquity (the self-portrait of Phidias, on the shield of Athena Parthenos, in the Parthenon in Athens). The Middle Ages saw the creation of idealized self-portraits; the author often painted himself as an individual assisting in a religious scene. An independent self-portrait appeared in the Renaissance as a result of raising the artist’s prestige and increasing the role of human individuality. According to the humanism of the Renaissance, the artist had become someone special, which is why artists often painted themselves turned towards the viewer (e.g. Albrecht Dürer).
Many artists painted self-portraits almost all their lives, thus creating cycles of their likenesses, including, among others, Olga Boznańska and Stanisław Wyspiański. In the case of Olga Boznańska, self-portraits are not only a reflection of the passage of time, but also the changing personality of the artist. The self-portrait of Józef Mehoffer is a faithful record of mood and moment; it reflects the intimate nature of the situation. One can even have the impression that it has the form of a sketch. Julian Fałat chose an unusual form of self-portrait; by blending his effigy into the Kraków panorama, Jan Matejko painted his self-portrait on a painting base in the shape of a circle.
Artists reveal themselves in a variety of different ways. It is typical to be presented at work, in a studio, or with family or friends (Stanisław Wyspiański with his wife). It also happens that they present themselves as historical, biblical, or mythological figures (Maurycy Gottlieb). The true master of this manner of self-presentation was Jacek Malczewski, author of the greatest number of self-portraits in the history of Polish art. Looking at them, it is hard not to suspect him of narcissism, but maybe this is just a sophisticated game with the viewer, a kind of planned show?
More self-portraits by Jacek Malczewski can be found in the following photo gallery: http://mnk.pl/fotogalerie/autoportrety-jacka-malczewskiego.

 

Elaborated by Editorial team of Małopolska's Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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Paintning “Ahasuerus” by Maurycy Gottlieb

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Audio

Obraz „Ahaswer” Maurycego Gottlieba [audiodeskrypcja] Tells: Fundacja na Rzecz Rozwoju Audiodeskrypcji KATARYNKA
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Obraz „Ahaswer” Maurycego Gottlieba Tells: Piotr Krasny
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