LH.20.007 – This is Me. Visual Manifestations of Personal Identity in Painting, Print and Photography (1450-present)

Route: Living history

Cluster question: 110 How do the old and new media influence individuals and society?

Instagram. Facebook. Snapchat. Globally, people proudly present themselves in selfies and other posts. YouTube tutorials advise users how to be ‘creative, cool and unique’ in constructing personal identities on public social media. However, there are striking visual similarities in the way we digitally portray ourselves: most of us use the same poses and symbols. This contradiction between conventions and uniqueness in contemporary visual manifestations of personal identity may be nothing new however, as similar ambivalence is inscribed in historical portraiture. This project aims to understand long-term dynamic processes of constructing, fashioning and presenting one’s identity in visual media from paintings, drawings and prints to photographs and digital posts. Recent art-historical research has given us valuable insights into the ways in which individual members of certain social classes, and of religious, gendered and professional groups have been portrayed, yet the outcomes are often based on a limited corpus and/or historical period. Similarly, theories on the art of portraiture (both of recent and more distant times) have been well studied, but historical practice, continuity of pictorial traditions and long-term chronological and thematic development far less so. We aim to do this through a visual analysis of a large set of portrait images (1.000.000+) in various artistic media, held by the RKD (Dutch Institute for Art History) and various other Dutch heritage institutions (a.o. Rijksmuseum, Geldersche Kastelen-Stichting) and new initiatives (Dutch National Portrait Gallery). We will compare poses, patterns, symbols, composition and other visual elements from a long-term historical perspective, addressing issues like the authorship of identity, the impact of artistic mobility on identity visualization, the transformation of the visual language of the self and the relationship between the portrayal of personal and collective identities. Thus, we will connect historical conventions and practices (of both portrayer and portrayed) to contemporary processes of self-fashioning.


identity construction, portraiture, public image, self-fashioning, visual media

Other organisations

RKD - Dutch Institute for Art History


Organisation Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society, Leiden University (LEI)
Name Dr. M. (Marika) Keblusek
E-mail marika.keblusek@nias.knaw.nl
Website https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/staffmembers/marika-keblusek#tab-1