Face Fusion is Everywhere

Dali, From Velazquez to Hippy-Dali

For years I’ve been rattling on about face fusion to demonstrate that portraits by true artists are not what they seem. Many are not accurate depictions but a fusion of features from different faces, often the artist’s own. Salvador Dali, for instance, practiced face fusion but called it “physiognomic synchronism”. You can read about it in the article: Dali’s Physiognomic Synchronisms. In a sign that the method was meaningful to him, he once morphed a photograph of himself into Velazquez's well-known self-portrait in Las Meninas (central image above): one great artist as another1.

Dali implied that "physiognomic synchronism" was his own invention which the art world believed because few at the time had seen it elsewhere. Subsequently, some art historians identified the method in their own studies on other painters as contemporaries occasionally did during the artist’s lifetime. Here's a list of some of them, even if far from complete, to demonstrate how common face fusion really is.2

Gustäv Kunstler sees resemblances in portraits by Van Eyck

Marilyn Ainsworth in those by Petrus Christus

Frank Zöllner thinks both Filippo Lippi and Botticelli fused their own features into portraits; so did contemporaries.

Leonardo faced similar “accusations”

Rona Goffen thought  all Titian’s female portraits represented himself

James Saslow and Paul Barolsky believe that Michelangelo’s works are in some sense a self-portrait (even though he did not do portraits.)

Svetlana Alpers thinks the same of Rembrandt’s portraits

Sir Peter Lely’s contemporaries thought he used his own features in almost all his portraits

Many scholars think Manet used his own features for Emperor Maximillian

Heather McPherson sees features from Cézanne’s self-portraits fused into his other portraits

Both Felix Bauman and Luzius Keller claim Degas practiced face fusion

Eric Fischl, a prominent American painter, has argued that Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein includes his own face

Face fusion has been central to art for centuries but there is so much literature to read nowadays that most students hunker down and focus on their own narrow area of interest. In the process they miss art history’s forest for its trees.


1. See the EPPH theme "Artist as Other Artist".

2. References to the various citations above can be found on pp. 94-5 of the book, Every Painter Paints Himself (available to read online at: http://www.everypainterpaintshimself.com/book/)

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