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Self-portrait

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John Michael Rijsbrack
Antwerp 1694 – London 1770
terracotta
60.5 x 50 x 26 cm
Inventory number IB00.079

John Michael Rijsbrack started out as a pupil of Antwerp-born sculptor Michiel van der Voort. In 1720, he accompanied his brother Pieter Andreas to London, where he would live and work for the next half century. Until this day, Rijsbrack is widely regarded as one of the great British sculptors. In this self-portrait, his expression is relaxed. The slightly opened mouth and subtle shading enhance the vivacity of the sculpture, which is so realistic that one can even distinguish the iris and the pupil. The bushy eyebrows and the delicately sculpted buttons and buttonholes all testify to Rijsbrack's great eye for detail. Sculptors often start from a sketch and a model to form an idea of the definitive sculpture. This raises the question of whether this terracotta self-portrait is a finished work or a model for, say, a marble sculpture. While it may have been a model, there is certainly no trace of a finished marble product.

Homely headgear

It is thanks to painted and engraved portraits by fellow-artists that we are able to identify this work as a self-portrait. In one such work, painted by John Vanderbank and now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London, Rijsbrack is actually wearing the same homely headgear.

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