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Untitled #108. 1984

Sherman’s history portraits (1988–90) investigate modes of representation in art history and the relationship between painter and model. These classically composed portraits borrow from a number of art-historical periods—Renaissance, baroque, rococo, Neoclassical—and make allusions to paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio, Fragonard, and Ingres (who, like all the Old Masters, were men). This free-association sampling creates a sense of familiarity, but not of any one specific era or style. The subjects (for the first time for Sherman, many are men) include aristocrats, Madonnas with child, clergymen, women of leisure, and milkmaids, who pose with props, costumes, and obvious prostheses. Theatrical and artificial—full of large noses, bulging bellies, squirting breasts, warts, and unibrows—the history portraits are poised between humorous parody and grotesque caricature.

A handful of Sherman’s portraits were inspired by actual paintings. Untitled #224 was made after Caravaggio’s Sick Bacchus (c. 1593), which is commonly believed to be a self-portrait of the artist as the Roman god of wine. In Sherman’s reinterpretation, the numerous layers of representation—a female artist impersonating a male artist impersonating a pagan divinity—create a sense of remove, pastiche, and criticality. Even where Sherman’s pictures offer a gleam of art-historical recognition, she has inserted her own interpretation of the canonized paintings, creating contemporary artifacts of a bygone era.

Untitled #228. 1990

Sherman’s history portraits (1988–90) investigate modes of representation in art history and the relationship between painter and model. These classically composed portraits borrow from a number of art-historical periods—Renaissance, baroque, rococo, Neoclassical—and make allusions to paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio, Fragonard, and Ingres (who, like all the Old Masters, were men). This free-association sampling creates a sense of familiarity, but not of any one specific era or style. The subjects (for the first time for Sherman, many are men) include aristocrats, Madonnas with child, clergymen, women of leisure, and milkmaids, who pose with props, costumes, and obvious prostheses. Theatrical and artificial—full of large noses, bulging bellies, squirting breasts, warts, and unibrows—the history portraits are poised between humorous parody and grotesque caricature.

A handful of Sherman’s portraits were inspired by actual paintings. Untitled #224 was made after Caravaggio’s Sick Bacchus (c. 1593), which is commonly believed to be a self-portrait of the artist as the Roman god of wine. In Sherman’s reinterpretation, the numerous layers of representation—a female artist impersonating a male artist impersonating a pagan divinity—create a sense of remove, pastiche, and criticality. Even where Sherman’s pictures offer a gleam of art-historical recognition, she has inserted her own interpretation of the canonized paintings, creating contemporary artifacts of a bygone era.

Untitled #216. 1989

Chromogenic color print, 7' 3 1/8" x 56 1/8" (221.3 x 142.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Werner and Elaine Dannheisser. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #210. 1989

Chromogenic color print, 66 x 44" (167.6 x 111.8 cm). Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, Promised Gift to the Seattle Art Museum in honor of the 75th Anniversary. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #213. 1989

Chromogenic color print, 41 1/2 x 33" (105.4 x 83.8 cm). Collection of Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein. Fractional and promised gift to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #222. 1990

Chromogenic color print, 60 x 44" (152.4 x 111.8 cm). Collection Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Gift of Carol and David Appel, 2000. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #197. 1989

Chromogenic color print, 31 5/16 x 20 7/8" (79.6 x 53.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Family of Man Fund. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #219. 1990

Chromogenic color print, 65 x 40" (165.1 x 101.6 cm). Collection of Larry Sanitsky, Beverly Hills. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #215. 1989

Chromogenic color print, 6' 2 1/4" x 51" (188.6 x 129.5 cm). The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, Los Angeles. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #224. 1990

Chromogenic color print, 48 x 38" (121.9 x 96.5 cm). Collection of Linda and Jerry Janger, Los Angeles. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #199. 1989

Chromogenic color print, 24 15/16 x 18" (63.3 x 45.7 cm). Barbara and Richard S. Lane. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #223. 1990

Chromogenic color print, 58 x 42" (147.3 x 106.7 cm). Neda Young, New York. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #198. 1989

Chromogenic color print, 38 7/8 x 27 7/8" (98.7 x 70.8 cm). The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #193. 1989

Chromogenic color print, 48 7/8 x 41 15/16" (124.1 x 106.5 cm). The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #214. 1989

Chromogenic color print, 29 1/2 x 24" (74.9 x 61 cm). Private collection. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #209. 1989

Chromogenic color print, 57 x 41" (144.8 x 104.1 cm). Private collection. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #228. 1990

Chromogenic color print, 6' 10 1/16" x 48" (208.4 x 122 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Eileen and Peter Norton. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #211. 1989

Chromogenic color print, 37 x 31" (94 x 78.7 cm). Neda Young, New York. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #201. 1989

Chromogenic color print, 52 7/8 x 35 7/8" (134.3 x 91.1 cm). Private collection, New York City. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #183. 1988

Chromogenic color print, 38 x 22 3/4" (96.5 x 57.8 cm). The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Boardroom, Inc. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #225. 1990

Chromogenic color print, 48 x 33" (121.9 x 83.8 cm). Collection of Nina and Frank Moore. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #204. 1989

Chromogenic color print, 60 x 44" (152.4 x 111.8 cm). Jane and Leonard Korman. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #205. 1989

Chromogenic color print, 53 1/2 x 40 1/4" (135.9 x 102.2 cm). Carol and David Appel. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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Untitled #226. 1990

Chromogenic color print, 47 1/4 x 29 1/2" (120 x 74.9 cm). Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures, New York. © 2012 Cindy Sherman

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