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Self-portrait with Armour, 1948


Self -portrait with Armour
, 1948

Tempera and oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm

De Chirico’s self-portraits in costume represent one of the principal subjects to what is known as the artist’s “Neo-baroque” period, which commenced at the end of the 1930s. This new development was noted in his Memoirs as the third profound “revelation” that had marked his artistic career. The event took place in the Louvre in front of a painting by Velasquez in the company of his second wife Isabella Far, who was also his inspirational Muse. Seventeenth century painting was to become a new guide, with Rubens as the principle point of reference. In his research, de Chirico lent particular attention to the physical quality of the paint, searching to achieve a fluid and brilliant medium. The paintings of the 1940s and 1950s were in fact executed through complex emulsion processes, gleaned from 18th and 19th century French treatises on painting technique. It is from the study of such treatises that he also developed his love for “bella materia” or the “beautiful material substance” of paint, while also cultivating a passion for “craft”. Indeed, it is precisely this love of “craft” that brought him to sign his work “Pictor Optimus” in this period.

The self-portraits in costume, painted from 1939 onward, can be classified in two groups: those painted from costumes borrowed from the Rome Opera House, which de Chirico brought to his studio and posed in, and those in which costumes are representational quotes from Great Master paintings. Self-portrait in Armour is part of this second group and can be traced to Velazquez’s Portrait of Phillip the IV in Armour of c. 1626.

The subject was indeed much loved by the artist, who executed a number of versions of the theme. In fact, he stated: “I am often asked why I portray myself in antique costumes. Some believe that I do so from vanity. I do it simply because traditional costumes are more richly coloured and more beautiful than modern clothes”. (S.V.)

(Original title: Autoritratto con corazza, 1948, Inv. 65)