Likenesses and Portraits - The Image of Humankind

22st February until 18th May 2019

Invitation (PDF)

Online catalogue (PDF)


  • Bargheer 1965 2A Kopf 02

    Eduard Bargheer
    Aquarell auf Bütten 1965.
    42,5 x 32 cm.
    Obj. Id: 66227



  • Luepertz 2013 2A Arkadien - Diana 01

    Markus Lüpertz
    Arkadien - Diana.
    Mischtechnik auf Papier 2013.
    163 x 133,5 cm. 
    Obj. Id: 79739




  • Heckel 1915 5H D301 Bildnis PR 01

    Erich Heckel
    Bildnis PR.
    Holzschnitt aquarelliert 1915.
    35,4 x 26,8 auf 59,2 x 49,4 cm.
    Obj. Id: 75291

  • Macke 1913 1G Heiderich 466 Bildnis Walter Macke 02

    August Macke
    Bildnis Walter Macke mit Rosenstrauss.
    Öl auf Leinwand 1913.
    Heiderich G 466. 78 x 85 cm.
    Obj. Id: 80328



  • Nolde 1937 5H SM193 II Doppelbildnis  01

    Emil Nolde
    Holzschnitt 1937.
    31,6 x 22,5 auf 41 x 30 cm.
    Obj. Id: 75133



  • Kirchner 1921 1G G0698 Portrait Bosshart 03

    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
    Portrait Bosshart.
    Öl auf Leinwand 1921.
    Gordon 698. 70 x 60 cm.
    Obj. Id: 64081





Likenesses and Portraits—The Image of Humankind

22st February until 29th May 2019


When we think about likenesses and portraits, we can look back at a tradition in human history that spans thousands of years. The oldest surviving anthropomorphic representations known to us today stem from the Upper Paleolithic and were primarily discovered in Russia and Central Europe. These so-called Venus figurines tend to have very pronounced female features, with a particularly strong emphasis on the breasts and the buttocks, as well as a prominent belly and big thighs, with the result that today one would interpret them as being in a late stage of pregnancy or extremely overweight. By contrast, the elaboration of the head and the lower limbs has for the most part been neglected. Naming them after the Roman goddess of beauty and love, who came much later, can be regarded as an expression of their complete nakedness. Today, scholars also prefer to characterize them as “female figurines” for the purpose of avoiding misunderstandings. They were primarily made of stone, bone, or ivory, less often of fired clay, and measure a maximum of twenty centimeters. Their purpose remains largely unclear: what is more or less certain is that these female statuettes, unlike the few male versions from this period, were not used as everyday objects. They are generally considered symbols of fertility intended to stimulate human procreation, or they are interpreted as portraying an early deity. Their interpretation in the sense of the representation of a matriarchal society or the invocation of an abundant food supply is less common. A further—surprising—interpretive approach sees an attempt to depict oneself in these female likenesses, which would explain why they taper off downward: A woman looking down at herself sees her breasts, belly, and hips most prominently, whereby the calves and feet are the smallest. This would also explain the frequent absence of a head, which is not visible to a woman portraying herself.

The earliest likenesses of this kind known to us today are the Venus of Hohle Fels and the Venus of Galgenberg, who were named for the sites at which they were found. The approximately six-centimeter-long Venus of Hohle Fels, carved out of mammoth ivory, was found in the Swabian Jura in 2008 and dates back 35,000 to 40,000 years. It therefore counts among the oldest depictions of a human being worldwide; its head was fashioned into a loop, which suggests its use as a pendant. Pronounced in this case are the short arms and hands around the upper part of the body. The similarly dated Venus of Galgenberg was discovered in Lower Austria in 1988. It measures 7.2 centimeters, consists of green serpentine, and is interpreted as a dancer or a huntress holding a club. It is flat on the back and worked sculpturally on the front. The Venus of Willendorf, which is much better known and more typically worked, was found in Wachau as early as in 1908. This figurine, which measures approximately eleven centimeters, consists of oolite (sedimentary rock) and was originally decorated with raddle. It is estimated to be 29,500 years old. This statuette of a female figure was long considered so valuable that only a copy of it was accessible to a broad public; it was not until recently, in 1998, that the original was presented on the occasion of an exhibition at Schönbrunn Palace and now graces exhibition spaces of the Museum of Natural History in Vienna.

A lot has happened between these very early likenesses and now. However, human beings have consistently pursued this form of self-depiction. They have time and again sculpturally and then painterly depicted themselves as well as their fellow human beings. The most important stages in European culture that influence contemporary artists include the Cycladic idols, unearthed during excavations on the Aegean islands. They are primarily marble artifacts, mainly from Paros and Naxos, which date to between 5000 and 2000 BCE. These idols are presumed to have religious meaning. They could have been used as a cult object, an image of a deity, or as a burial object. Unfortunately, more precise details can no longer be established, as many of the specimens stem from illicit excavations and their archeological context cannot be recreated, making it impossible to make a clear determination. Most of these figures measured between twenty and thirty-five centimeters, yet they could also nearly reach human dimensions. When these idols were found, they initially attracted little attention in the art world. It was not until the emergence of abstract art that the Cycladic idols came to be appreciated, which found expression in works by, for example, Hans Arp, Constantin Brancusi, or Alexej von Jawlensky.

Early painted depictions of the human body are known from geometric art (900–675 BCE), whereby in this case perspective became important: In most cases in the course of cultic burial rituals, silhouettes with head and torso appear en face, and the buttocks and legs in profile, so that each bodily feature manifested itself in as pronounced a way as possible.

Likewise in ancient Greece, the depiction of the human figure emancipated itself in art of the Archaic period to become the kouros and the kore, to the life-sized and larger than life-sized sculpture mostly made of marble. Kouroi and korai were preceded by the Egyptian sculptures of the pharaohs and are characterized by their rigorous symmetry and frontality. The extremities are aligned axially with one leg slightly forward, and the physiognomic features are strongly idealized, right up to the characteristic “Archaic smile.” They were erected as votive offerings, as tombstones in temples and at burial sites. In later epochs, sculptures then originated with longer strides and that were more animated, which would in turn also exert an influence on Roman art, eventually conquering the entire European continent.

As we have seen, the depiction of the human being is one of the oldest motifs in art. Paintings and bronze sculptures were also produced in antiquity but have only rarely survived, as the paintings did not stand the test of time and the metal was so valuable that it was melted down and reutilized. One of the first portrait representations, the so-called Mask of Agamemnon, originated around 1500 BCE. Egyptian art as well as Greek and then Roman antiquity were also acquainted with portrait-like painting and sculpture, whereby little importance was placed on the near-natural depiction of the facial features. The faces were for the most part idealized, were not physiognomically accurate renderings of those portrayed. Portraits have survived from Roman antiquity, above all as busts and frescos, as well as on coins.

Following the lack of interest in portraiture during the Middle Ages, the genre experienced a new stage of development in the Late Gothic period with an increased interest in individual features, and in particular during the Renaissance up until the Baroque period, as such paintings were commissioned not only by rulers, but also by generals, bankers, burghers, scholars, civil servants, men of the church, and merchants. The introduction of oil painting was conducive to near-natural renderings, initially in the north and then in the south of Europe as well, as was Leonardo’s development of the “sfumato” for flesh tones. The triumph of the depiction of personalities lasted until the development of portrait photography in the mid-nineteenth century, when the photographic medium took on the important task of immortalizing the human being.

The self-portrait assumed a special role, for which numerous artists used a mirror and later a photograph of themselves, often at work. Preferably with the corresponding attributes: easel, palette, brush, or model. The self-portrait gained in importance during the Renaissance, as artists were no longer seen as mere craftsmen, but whose position was equated with that of philosophers, men of letters, and scholars.

Although photography largely assumed the task of depicting human beings, if we look at modern and contemporary artists we can also see how important a role the rendering of the human figure and the self-portrait continued to play, and still does. Our exhibition on likeness and portrait will demonstrate this on the basis of works by artists from Expressionism to the present.

Alexandra Henze Triebold

(Translation by Rebecca van Dyck)

Galerie Henze & Ketterer
Kirchstrasse 26, CH 3114 Wichtrach
Tel. +41 (0)31 781 06 01
Galerie Henze & Ketterer & Triebold
Wettsteinstrasse 4, CH 4125 Riehen
Tel. +41 (0)61 641 77 77