Musicians’ Self-Portraits from the Renaissance to the Digital Age

Antoni PIZÀ, director of the Foundation for Iberian Music, will present “Staging a Musical Self though Paper, Canvas, and The Screen: Musicians’ Self-Portraits from the Renaissance to the Digital Age” at the Ictm Study Group on Iconography of the Performing Arts, Università Roma Tre – Fondazione Teatro Palladium (Rome, 18–20 May 2023)

Schoenberg’s Self-Portrait

Musicians, he argues, have engaged in visual self-representation at least since the Renaissance and they have continued the tradition all the way to modern times with contemporary practices including selfies and generative technology and AI art. The practitioners include so-called classical composers (Schoenberg is a well-known case) and performers (Caruso, for instance), but also pop singers and musicians (Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith, among others). The media used varies from oil on canvas to drawings on paper, from traditional photography to digital media. In some instances, there are grave, pompous self-representations, but caricatures also abound (e.g., Donizetti). There are also many miscategorized self-portraits (i.e., portraits misattributed to their subject), and many more purposely fake or mocking self-portraits including contemporary Roman musician and comic Federico Maria Sardelli, which would indicate that the category of “self-portrait” adds value and prestige to any visual artifact. Furthermore, many visual artists, especially during the Renaissance, present themselves as faux musicians, possibly as a sign of nobility or education. Women, slowly but surely, have also claimed a space in the realm of musicians’ self-portraits since many of them, belonging to the higher echelons of society, were both visual artists and active musicians (Ducreaux and Schröter, among others). In some instances, the musician is truly obsessed with his or her own image to the point that, in addition to visual self-representation, he or she also provides written autobiographies and even musical self-portraits in sound (Spohr, for instance). In the end, any attempt to create a taxonomy of “musicians self-portraits” amounts to a serious interrogation of the usual categories of “self-portrait,” “musician,” and “artist” and to the staging of a vulnerable, doubtful self that wants to be reasserted.