James Barry (1741-1806)
Self-Portrait as Timanthes, c. 1780-1803
Oil on canvas, 76 x 63 cm
This half-length portrait is based on a description by Pliny the Elder of a lost painting by the ancient Greek artist Timanthes. It was begun around 1780; Barry initially used it for his representation of Timanthes in a painting for the Great Room at the Society of Arts in London. Later, in 1804, he was requested by the Society to provide a self-portrait, to be reproduced in engraved form for a published volume of the Society's transactions for that year. In his reply to the Society Barry Mentions that he had completed the portrait the summer before.
He represents himself wearing a red coat with a yellow waistcoat and white shirt underneath. His neck is adorned with a black ribbon. He holds aloft a painting of a Cyclops, the one-eyed giant who, according to Homer, devoured human flesh. In the background, satyrs gaze in fear at the giant. The windswept tree and active volcano silhouetted against the sky add to the sense of drama. Behind the artist is the base of the famous Hellenistic statue the Lacöon, a cast of which stood in Barry's studio. The artist's deliberate placement of himself between the statue and the painting was intended to reflect his ability to survive adversity.
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