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Recto: a self-portrait drawing of Sir Peter Paul Rubens; head only, tilted to the left, looking out at the viewer. Verso: a summary sketch of a seated couple embracing. This is connected with a drawing of Callisto and Jupiter, from a sheet of studies in t

Recto: A self-portrait in old age. Verso: A man and a woman embracing: Self-portrait of Rubens in old age ©

Images of artists increasingly appear from the fifteenth century onwards, a phenomenon linked to a change in how artists were perceived in society during the Renaissance. With the rediscovery of classical texts and a renewed interest in humanism came an increasing emphasis on individual achievement and posthumous fame. Artists saw self-portraiture as a way to demonstrate their accomplishments and assert their status as intellectuals rather than anonymous artisans. Simultaneously, a market developed for people wanting to own images of those deemed to be exceptional and inspirational by virtue of their artistic talent.

The first objects in this exhibition are introspective. They were not intended to be seen by a wide audience and often give the strong impression of an artist scrutinising their appearance, then recording it with unflinching honesty. Such private images were sometimes produced by young artists practising their craft, while others served as a form of psychological exploration. Some artists employed self-portraiture to experiment with a new technique, pose or expression, using themselves as the cheapest and most readily available model. Other private images were made so that an artist's family or friends might remember them during a period of absence or after their death.

Elisabetta Sirani (1638-65)

A self-portrait

Lucian Freud (1922-2011)

Self-portrait: Reflection

Annibale Carracci (Bologna 1560-Rome 1609)

A self-portrait on an easel

David Hockney (b. 1937)

Self-Portrait, 6 April 2012

Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)

A self-portrait

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen 1577 - Antwerp 1640)

Recto: A self-portrait in old age. Verso: A man and a woman embracing

Parmigianino (Parma 1503-Casalmaggiore 1540)

A self-portrait