Annibale Carracci, Self Portrait 1597

Form:  This self portrait incorporates a low key or earth toned palette combined with a very close point of view.  Annibale demonstrates a good mastery of the human face as well as the depiction of light and shadow across it which is called chiaroscuro (the play of light and shadow or shading) to create realism in this work.  According to the Brittanica, chiaroscuro (from Italian chiaro, "light"; scuro, "dark"), which is technique employed in the visual arts to represent light and shadow as they define three-dimensional objects.
Carracci also uses an intense spotlight on his face while the rest of the picture plane is murky surrounding him.  This is called tenebrism and it is a way of creating a focus on a particular element in a work and also gives the work a sense of heightened drama.

The painting also feels like an immediate kind of "snapshot" of Carracci.  Carracci seems to be looking directly at you but what he is really doing is looking directly into a mirror and painting directly from observation.  Since this is the case, Carracci was probably  painting without using any previous studies or drawings.  This is called ala prima-(in the first) which means painting directly from observation onto canvas.

Iconography and Context:  One of the skills that most painters needed to develop during the Renaissance period was the ability to paint portraits and accurate likenesses.  Often this skill was developed by painting with a the only model that one might have available which is one's self.  Obviously, since there are others in this image, Carracci could have had one of his assistants model for him so why then did he paint a self portrait?

The answer probably lies in the basic premise of the Renaissance man.  The humanistic and platonic idea of perfectibility gave rise to self reflection and observation.  A portrait then is not just about the immediate appearance but also it is a symbol of the person.  In this image we see that Carracci is studying himself and also demonstrating his ability to create a strong psychological likeness as well a physical likeness.

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