Wishlist – early modern self-portraits

Pierre-adrien Sollier, Les menines (www.solliergallery.com)

Having recently reviewed the Albrecht Dürer klicky, we thought this would be a good excuse to introduce the first of an occasional series: our wishlist. Identifying new sets that either collectors or children would like to see coming out of Zirndorf is a regular preoccupation among playmophiles. On this occasion, however, we are at least connecting the practice to an existing and successful formula!

Several organisations have combined with Playmobil over the years, from Lufthansa to Lebkuchen Schmidt, and from Milka to Porsche, to get the company to produce promotional toys. For me though, this always works best when it’s promoting culture rather than just a product: Braunschweig Tourist Information commissioning Henry the Lion and Matilda of England (#70315) for example, or Vermeer’s Milkmaid brought to life by the Rijksmuseum (#5067).

It seems very strange that other museums and galleries have not picked this up. I can imagine the Prado doing a rip-roaring trade in Playmobil artists but Dürer is all they stock. We recently attended the Van Gogh Alive exhibition, where the Playmobil van Gogh figure (#70475) was conspicuous by his absence from the shop.

So here are our top five early modern artists we would like to see presented with their self-portraits. Our self-imposed rules: these are early modern paintings, produced between 1450 and 1750 – so no Jan van Eyck; they’re by the artist him or herself – so alas no Caravaggio; and they’re portraits, capable of accomodation by the exisiting Playmobil frame and easel, so none of those insertions of self into group frescoes. Yes, Raphael, I’m talking to you.

Hans Holbein (the Younger)
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

His portraits of Tudor royals and personalities of the reign of Henry VIII, such as Thomas More, make Holbein a well-known and, therefore, decidedly marketable figure in Britain.

Catharina van Hemessen
Kunstmuseum Basel

A Flemish portrait artist working at the court of the regent, Mary of Hungary, van Hemessen has the distinction of painting the first self-portrait of the artist at work.

Giorgio Vasari
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

An important Renaissance artist in his own right, it’s through Vasari’s Lives of the Artists that we know so much about late medieval art history.

Vasari also designed the first-floor corridor connecting the ducal Pitti Palace to the Old Palace in Florence, so that the Medici didn’t have to mingle with the Florentine riff-raff on their way to work. Today, the Corridoio Vasariano holds the Uffizi gallery’s vast collection of self-portraits. I had the privilege of walking it in 2013 as a visiting academic. It is currently closed to the public but due to be reopened next year following refurbishment.

Artemisia Gentileschi
Royal Collection

My number one choice, as I’m a big fan of the Italian Baroque artist. Here Gentileschi presented herself as the personification of Painting. She probably produced this in England while briefly working for Charles I.

Diego Velázquez
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The Spanish artist painted many court portraits and also made several of himself. There’s one in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Valencia and possibly another in the Met in New York, as well as two at the Uffizi.

There are plenty of other self-portraits out there, some of which came close to making our list. Who would you like to see given the Playmobil treatment? Let us know in the comments!


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