The first photographic selfie by Philadelphia photographer Robert Cornelius.
The first photographic selfie by Philadelphia photographer Robert Cornelius. Library of Congress

Celebrate Selfies With 5 Self-Portraits That Made History

Jun 21, 2017

The term "selfie" only dates to circa 2002, but millennials — while they can take credit for a broad range of social-media innovations — cannot take credit for the idea of taking a picture of oneself. Depending how you frame it, the concept of a self-portrait is centuries-old, and many artists and photographers can take credit for shaping the genre (i.e. Vincent Van Gogh's bandaged ear, Cindy Sherman's movie scenes, Andy Warhol's polaroids).

Here, TIME looks back at five self-portraits that stood out.

Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez, a 1656 painting of the Spanish royal family with his self portrait.
Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, a 1656 painting of the Spanish royal family with his self portrait.© Museo Nacional del Prado

Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez

Centuries before taking a photo in the mirror became a go-to selfie technique, Spanish painter Diego Velázquez made himself a center of attention in Las Meninas ("The Ladies-in-Waiting"), his 1656 painting of the Spanish royal family. The king and queen are reflected in the mirror at the back, their daughter is in the middle, but the artist himself is looking straight towards the viewer.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait with Two Circles. C. 1665-69.
Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait with Two Circles. C. 1665-69.Courtesy Kenwood House, Iveagh Bequest/English Heritage

Rembrandt's 'Self Portrait with Two Circles'

Just a few years after Velázquez put himself in the picture, Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn painted his "Self-Portrait with Two Circles." The Dutch painter is known for the number of self-portraits he created over the course of two decades, "to keep himself busy in between commissions and because of his ongoing fascination with the aging process," says Nigel Hurst, CEO of the Saatchi Gallery (which is hosting an exhibit on selfies until July 27). This masterpiece helped Rembrandt perfect the genre.

The first photographic selfie by Philadelphia photographer Robert Cornelius.
The first photographic selfie by Philadelphia photographer Robert Cornelius.Library of Congress

The First American Selfie

There are many contenders for the title of first photographic self-portrait, but the Library of Congress believes the first one taken in the U.S. was this image by Philadelphia photographer Robert Cornelius. The photograph was taken in the yard behind his family’s chandelier store in 1839.

Buzz Aldrin space selfie during his Gemini 12 mission in 1966.
Buzz Aldrin space selfie during his Gemini 12 mission in 1966.NASA

The First Space Selfie

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin took a picture of himself during his record five-and-a-half-hour spacewalk during the Gemini 12 mission in 1966, a few years before he became the second man on the moon. He would later point out that it was the first selfie in space.

The Most Retweeted Tweet of All-Time

But which selfie is the most famous ever? That's a more recent image. In terms of the number of celebrities in one photo, that goes to Ellen DeGeneres, whose selfie from hosting the Academy Awards in 2014 set a record for most retweeted tweet of all time. (The record was surpassed in 2017, but not by a selfie.)

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