Johannes Gumpp, the painter whose only work is a mysterious triple self-portrait

For as long as the art of painting has existed, artists have taken self-portraits or included themselves in representations of mythological, religious, or invented themes.

Until the invention of photography, the easiest way, although not the only way, to take a self-portrait was to look at yourself in a mirror. Something that, depending on the time, could be more or less expensive. In the seventeenth century, for example, owning a mirror accounted for a certain economic capacity.

And it is in this century where we find the curious artist of whom only one work is known, and this one is so strange that it has given rise to multiple speculations about it. It is about Johannes Gumpp, an Austrian painter born in Innbruck around 1626, and of whom it is hardly known that he belonged to a family of artists active in Tyrol and Bavaria between the 16th and 18th centuries, and who moved to Florence at a very young age, where in 1646 he made the two copies of his only known work.

After that, nothing is known about his life, nor if he remained in the Italian city or moved to another place, nor of course the approximate date of his death.

The only thing that is known, as we said, are two self-portraits (actually two copies of the same painting), one in a circular format 89 centimeters in diameter that is preserved in the Vasari Corridor of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and another rectangular that belongs to a private collection in Pocking, in Upper Bavaria.

The work is a kind of triple self-portrait, where the artist is represented three times: the first from behind without his face being seen, the second through his reflection in the mirror where he is looking at himself, and the third in the painting where he is is portraying. Both copies of the work are signed and dated 1646 on the sheet of paper depicted at the top edge of the depicted canvas.

In addition, a dog and a cat are represented, whose presence the experts interpret as an allegory of the fidelity and autonomy typical of painting (which the painter wants to emphasize) in front of the image reflected in the mirror, also faithful but fleeting.

According to Pino Blasone in Mirrors, Masks and Skulls:

Probably and in particular, what our philosopher-painter wanted to say is that the subject of a real person is often a mystery to others and even to himself. What we can see are the objects of the “exact” reflection of it in a mirror, or of its autonomous interpretation given by an artist. Not infrequently the second is more true than the first, even if it seems a transfiguration rather than a simple representation.

For the French thinker Jean-Luc Nancy, this multiple and even redundant representation of the subject is a paradoxical challenge to the precariousness and imminent absence of the subject itself, with all its personal characteristics and individual limits.

In 1960, the American artist Norman Rockwell would make his own version of the theme in an ironic tone, giving it a very appropriate title triple portraitbut leaving out the dog and the cat.

However, what Gumpp wanted to convey through such a strange and unique self-portrait is subject to speculation and interpretation. Why he did not paint more works or if he did it under another name or pseudonym, will remain a mystery.


Peter M├╝hlbauer Schloss Sch├Ânburg / Jean-Luc Nancy, Le Regard du portrait (Gabriella Baptist) / Mirrors, Masks and Skulls (Pino Blasone) / Wikipedia.

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