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Artists are in a special position, being able to promote their own image through self portraits. For public consumption, artists were often keen to depict themselves as gentlemen and certainly as educated and sophisticated, as their social status was generally not high. But the seventeenth century also saw the arrival of the painter as poet and visionary, with psychological insight into their sitters, as seen in the self portraits of Rembrandt and Salvator Rosa.

This romantic approach was the pattern for future centuries, culminating in the many remarkable self portraits by Van Gogh and Lucien Freud. Like Van Gogh, many artists painted themselves brushes and palette in hand, standing at their easel. These show how little the craft of painting changed over time.