“Ogni pittore dipinge sè”, “Every painter paints himself”, is a Tuscan proverb which can be found for the first time in Italian literature between 1477 and 1479. In art historical writing the proverb “Every painter paints himself” refers to an artist who creates himself involuntarily in his work.
This video shows how painters paint themselves very well:
Amazing, right? But it’s not to be taken this literally “every painter paints himself”, according to Gerolamo Savonarola (1497). He said:
“And one says that every painter paints himself. He does not indeed paint himself as manbecause he produces images of lions, horses, men and women which are not identical with himself, but he paints himself as painter, that is according to his concept. And although there are different fantasies and figures of the painters who are painting, they are nevertheless all [done] according to his concept.”
So unlike f.i. Rembrandt who painted not only self portraits but painted himself in many of his paintings, it’s about painting according to his concept as well.
In the Netherlands, the phrase “zoo de man was, was zyn werk” (like man, like work) appears, again, as a positive statement about the artist’s natural abilities. The Dutch Renaissance man and art lover Constantijn Huygens, wrote that a portrait was “a summary of the whole man, of his body as well as his spirit.” The concept was even applied to the brushstrokes used to create portraits.
Art historians have long remarked that Vermeer is one of the most self-effacing painters of all times. The artist-art historian Lawrence Gowing summarized the problem of comprehending the Vermeer and his work when he wrote: “What kind of man was Vermeer? Here is the ambiguity. We may examine the pictures from corner to corner and still be uncertain. It seems as if he was of a god-like detachment, more balanced, more civilized, more accomplished, and more immune from the infection of his time than any painter before or since”.