"For Luca"

When Luca del Baldo explained to me the scope of his “visionary academy of ocular mentality,”
my first thought was to go search through old files for a suitably academic photograph – of
which I came across many: taken at a conference in Madrid, or in the courtyard of the Sackler
Museum, or on the steps of some library or other. Yet when I saw more of Luca’s work in
portraiture, I realized that they were all too formulaic, simply too thin for the artist to work on
or depart from. They were photographs of the kind that accumulate by themselves over a
career, products of happenstance, of occasions when my presence was no more than
incidental. I took no personal interest in any of them. In fact, among a lifetime of photographs
taken of me, there is only one in which I can truly see myself.
An acanthus pattern tattoo of my upper left arm had just been completed, and this may have
been the prompt for the photograph. It was taken in 2010 by my life partner David McDowell,
under the spotlight in the dark hallway outside the playroom of our house in California. What
astonished me about the photograph is that I appeared, for once, as a “sensuous and intelligent
being” (Schiller) – and not just a bookworm. Somehow the photographic apparatus had been
absorbed or internalized and the camera could see through the eyes of Dave, through the eyes
of love. This singular image had a counterpart – a picture I once took secretly of Dave,
sunbathing on a recliner and falling asleep, his beard glistening in the July sunshine, looking
gorgeous. You know how it is when you look at the one you love as they sleep: it can take your
breath away. Many years have passed since then. We have both changed and aged. Yet when
I think of Dave, it is still that image that persists and rings true, in spite of time.
When I accepted Luca’s generous invitation I had not yet seen any of his paintings, but now I
began to seek them out. As a portraitist, what were his aims? How did he manage pigment
and brushes? What feelings did his work tend to summon in his viewers? I began with his
portrait of Madonna, made relatively late in her career, at the time of her 12th studio album
(MDNA) in 2012. By this date Madonna had passed through a great many transformations –
virgin bride, material girl, dominatrix, yogini, dancing queen. The publicity shot for MDNA, from
which Luca must have worked, revealed a Madonna softer than before, less kinetic, her hair
arranged in crimped blond waves like a 30s movie star, her face impassive and her complexion
radiant, flawless, smooth as ivory.
Luca’s reworking of the photographic image systematically dismantled the work of idealization
that publicity shots and fashion photographs are designed to accomplish. Stripping away the
superficial mask of beauty, his portrait revealed very different conditions of the face that lay
beneath. Where in the photograph flesh and makeup fused, now they separated. Eyelashes
that had formed a luxuriant and dreamy blur now stood out from her face, hair by hair, as if
glued in place. Lipstick that in the photograph so completely blended with skin-tone as to seem
almost natural, became a swathe of paint laid over a mouth that in its lines of muscular tension
revealed unsuspected depths – of vulnerability, disappointment, resilience. From beneath the
mask of beauty there emerged a face marked by time and experience, with the scars and the
toughness of a survivor. If the photograph were the only evidence, one would have no idea of
who Madonna was or what her career had achieved; no understanding of the way her
performances took hold of the codes of femininity and utterly changed them, by sheer force of
personality forging a new kind of uber-empowered, hypersexualized female star that became
the dominant model of femininity for the next generation of performers. Yet that was exactly
the understanding that emerged from Luca’s portrait, which, looking past the pretext of the
publicity shot, recognized the toughness, the iron will and feral energy that lay behind all
Madonna’s performances.
Luca’s project comes at a critical moment in the history of the portrait, when the combined
forces of democracy and global communication have taken what originated as a genre for the
privileged few, and caused it to explode worldwide into an internet glittering with a billion
human countenances. To navigate the multitude, facial recognition software simplified the
complexity of the face to a basic cluster of salient points, and human users learned to do much
the same, passing over the array of faces at increasing speeds and with growing indifference.
One can think of Luca’s transposition of the photo-portrait into the medium of oils as a work of
sustained opposition to the degradation and trivialization of the contemporary portrait image,
its drift into entropy. In place of “instantaneous automatic reactions,” writes Barbara Stafford,
Luca mobilizes “the power of slow looking, the thoughtful judgment that comes from
deliberation, from the gradual unveiling of the phenomenological fragments that constitute
‘you’.” Breaking free from the photographic instant, the work of the brush opens a space for
critical reflection within which the painter, like any classical portraitist, is able to assess not
simply the sitter’s visual appearance but their whole character. I am reminded of Goya’s
portrait of the Spanish court, and the multiple aspects each one embodies, as if the artist were
to say: ‘Ridiculous! A complete buffoon! With what arrogance he attempts to hide his own
stupidity! Yet also see how damaged he is, and how lonely, how much he would welcome some
human warmth, of which I can spare a little.’
Consider his remarkable portrait of art critic Robert Hughes, made a year before his death in
2012. Hughes was regarded by many in the world of journalism (in university circles, not so
much) as the greatest art critic of our time. He had been the first to give an account of modern
art in terms the general public could understand and enjoy, and he did so without
condescension, relying on his own love for the art of the 20th century to convey his thought to
the audience. He had an exceptional ability to compress complex intuition into nuggets that his
readers could take away with them. Of the work of painter R.B. Kitaj he observed that it had
“the sense of not knowing the whole story that comes from being close up to traumatic
events.” He was fond of working his ideas into thunderous, Churchill-like pronouncements. Of
the post-Soviet artist duo, Komar and Melamid, he said that “it is the nature of carnivores to
get power and then, having disposed of their enemies, to deploy the emollient power of Great
Art to make themselves look like herbivores.” Following the success of The Shock of the New
(1981) he came to feel he was living at a time when the original energies of modernism had
become exhausted: “So much of art – not all of it, than God -- but a lot of it has become just a
cruddy game for the aggrandizement of the rich and ignorant.” In later years the contempt he
felt toward the art world resembled the scorn that Alexander Pope meted out on literary
London in the Dunciad. He never doubted he was right.
The delicious irony of Luca’s portrait is the way it turns the tables: not the critic judging the
artist, but the other way around. Any assessment of a figure as complex as Hughes is likely to
involve multiple aspects and takes, and judging from its densely layered surface, the portrait
cost Luca many hours of thought and deliberation. It is as though Hughes’ mettle were being
tested – in the way automobiles are tested, severely and relentlessly, by vibration platforms,
wind tunnels, simulated temblors. The accumulation of brushwork is such that Hughes’ face
looks as if it had been sandblasted, with everything of the surface blown away until only the
core remains. All the moisture seems to have been drained from Hughes’ lined and craggy
features, to the point where it resembles clay baked in a kiln, with a texture so rough that if a
piece of chiffon were to slide across, it would surely tear. The result is an image of Hughes that
has endures and survived every test, in the process acquiring a presence far greater than the
photograph suggests: the indomitable Robert Hughes.
What of Luca’s portrait of me? I had not expected any of the sentiment and intimacy present in
the original to survive the journey of transcription. The original had involved just Dave and me.
It had been cast in the vocative or second-person register of address, along the I-you axis of
communication. Luca’s piece was necessarily composed in the third-person or objective
register, in which ‘I’ is reified into ‘him’. When I first saw Luca’s portrait, I almost cried over the
dots of colored pigment that destroyed the even, celluloid surface of the original, with its sheen
and its hoped-for hint of glamor. But I soon came to love what replaced it.
I considered the thought (with apologies to Aristotle) that “Painting aims at representing men
as worse, Photography as better than in actual life.” Yet that did not quite fit the case here.
Closer to what I felt was the thought that photography, being virtual, always takes us away
from the material density of the real into a realm of simulations: but it provides no way
through which the image may return to the world. Luca’s generous intervention offered a
portal back into the real, which is where, after all, each of us has to live.

(Copyright  by Norman Bryson, 2019. All rights reserved)


The most complex and most adequate theory of portraits was formulated by Nicolas
Cusanus in the 15th century, contemporarily to the portraits of Jan van Eyck. In De Visione
Dei, Cusanus presented a theory of chiastic relationships between the person portrayed
and his or her portrait by arguing that not only the subject of the painting is able to look at
the artwork, but that this itself is looking at the beholder. In Idiota de Mente, he developed
his theory further into a most astonishing concept of similarity. Portraits, he argues, that
perfectly resemble the person portrayed are empty and bloodless, whereas those which
establish a certain distance between these two poles not only represent the portrayed but
also the vector of tension and power that is acting between them. These are the genuine
portraits: not similar, but true.
Unconsciously or through deeper knowledge, Luca del Baldo confirmed the second
element of Cusanus’ theory of portraiture. He did not confront sitters in order to perform
his insightful paintings, but used photographs of them. Turning the photographs into
paintings, he instantiates a distance between the indexical character of the photographic
representation and the constructive touch of the brush. It is astounding that through his
capacity of empathy, which comes not only from his knowledge of photography but also
from the lives and works of those he depicted, he was able to present the portrayed in a
much more indexical way than photography itself could ever have achieved. In his series,
he conducts the miracle of art: to go beyond the realm of representation and thus trace the
very character of what is shown. Of course, also photographs hold this capacity. But his
paintings after photographs install the vector of difference that for Cusanus is the condition
of true representation. I do know a number of the portrayed researchers personally, and I
was impressed by the similarity of my internal pictures of these persons and their outer
appearance as being evoked through Del Bado’s paintings.
His series of portraits stands in the tradition of Illustrium Imagines as founded by Andrea
Fulvio in 1517, or by Paolo Giovio with his similar approach in 1549. These illustrated
books were meant to install not only emperors but also humanists in the Hall of Fame. In
this tradition, Luca del Baldo establishes a special circle of Uomini Illustri: researchers who
deal with the problem of images in our times. Thus, he reflects upon the necessity to
reflect the powers and possibilities of pictures in a world in which visualization has become
a conditio sine qua non in all fields of life: economy, war, culture, entertainment and
research. His circle of the Uomini Illustri of pictorial research is a reflection of the capacity
of the object as such. I feel very honored to be included in this endeavor, together with

friends and colleagues whom in parts I have known for a very long time.

(Copyright by Horst Bredekamp, 2015. All rights reserved)


"Portrait or Self-Portrait?"

My first impression when I unwrapped Luca Del Baldo’s wonderful oil portrait of me was completely divided: the face was mine, but the expression felt unfamiliar.  

Every detail of the portrait seemed to me accurate. The Italian painter’s fine, careful touch had captured every blemish, every wrinkle and fold of aging skin, every stray wisp of thinning, graying, mussed-up hair. Even the two little dark spots on the left side of my forehead had been faithfully reproduced. Everything that too many years of sunshine had imprinted on my fair Irish complexion had been snared by the keen eye and hand of the painter.  

But what was strange or uncanny about the expression? It was an entirely faithful rendering of the photograph that I had sent to Luca Del Baldo. And that photograph was in a certain technical sense a self-portrait, or what the contemporary jargon refers to as a “Selfie.” That is, I had composed it carefully on the screen of my aptly named “iPhone.” When I was satisfied with my expression, I saved the picture and sent it off to Luca. My double take at the painting then, was registering a dissonance at the level of authorship. Was it a portrait? Or a self-portrait? Clearly it is both. The painting is a portrait, but the image reproduced from the photograph is a self-portrait. And that is precisely what is disturbing about it, for I read the expression (now rendered in gorgeous oils) as one of composure, complacency, confidence, and (in my darkest moments) a kind of smugness. It is, in other words, an expression of someone who has conquered his own doubts, and achieved a kind of triumphal assurance about life.  

Of course nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that I am constantly beset by doubts, second thoughts, secret questions and private fears. Luca could not possibly know any of this. He based his generous offer to paint my portrait on my reputation as a writer and scholar. We have never met face to face. In a way, his picture is of a writer’s mask, a persona constructed carefully by the agonizing work of arranging words on a page until they seem to capture a truth, convey an insight, or tell a compelling story. It is thus uncannily appropriate that it is a painting based on a Selfie, of a composed self-image. It is not “painted from the life,” but from a carefully constructed façade.  

George Bernard Shaw says somewhere that “every man over forty is responsible for his own face.” But does this apply to portraits? Or to self-portraits? Luca del Baldo’s beautiful painting is both. I will treasure it in some not very public place, where it will be my secret answer to the portrait of Dorian Gray. As I age into decrepitude, I will gaze at it to remind myself of how the magic of oil paint on canvas can sparkle with vitality, and how, for just a moment, I managed to project a calm air of clairvoyance. Or perhaps the more precise word would be acceptance, a resignation to the tragic death at age 38 of my son, Gabriel Mitchell, which occurred around the time this painting was commissioned. This seems to me visible in the eyes, which I recognize as my own. What does this picture want? Nothing, really. It has everything it needs, for as long as it lives.

W. J. T. MITCHELL, 2014
(Copyrights by W. J. T. Mitchell. All rights reserved)


"Dear Luca  Del  Baldo,

my resistance to comment on my portrait is explained by the fact that I am presently writing a book on face and mask. In my view , the difference between face and mask should be reconsidered. The face is to some extent also a mask, a mask of the self. Nietzsche, in his essays on “Jenseits von Gut und Böse”, even claimed that we need a mask to remain or to become ourselves. In your case, you have produced without knowing me in person, a portrait after a photograph and turned it into a painting which I only know from the digital reproduction. What then is it what I see? My expression is or seems spontaneous , and I have forgotten when and in which context the photograph was taken which you used.  I smile in your portrait but why and to whom? Maybe, I have changed since, as we always only remain ourselves on the condition that we change.  In my manuscript for the book I even suspect that we  only represent the self , since we aim at and exercise , or avoid ,such a representation. Thus, my hesitation to write about what I see ( and what it is what I see or don’t see) , may be the only reaction which is more than a play with empty words and  questionable ideas. In the meanwhile,  I continue to write a chapter on the portrait in my “history of the face” and I claim that what in other cultures was the mask, in the European tradition has become the portrait as a place holder , but a placeholder for what and for whom?

I now have to come to terms with my double and to overcome my hesitations. First, I am older now than the portrait is. 

Second, the portrait is smiling in such a way as I would not smile when portrayed in oil. But I will get used to this unexpected guest who questions my own presence.

So, you see, I am in the middle of a multitude of questions.

Tante grazie e tanti saluti

Hans Belting"

 (Copyright by Hans Belting, 2011. All rights reserved)


"For Luca"

As Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes have taught us, photographs are subliminally invested in the
passing of time. The snapshot marks a moment in space, but upon reflection, it opens up its own
temporal dimensions, though perhaps not to just any gaze at any time. This temporal dimension
becomes even more pronounced in the case of painting based on photography. Especially when the
paintings are portraits of aging academics.
Photopainting, a kind of remediation in reverse, brings to mind the early paintings of Gerhard Richter,
which powerfully conjure up a past, half remembered and half forgotten in Richter’s painterly blurring of
figures represented. Luca’s painterly style, with its expressively layered brushstrokes, is very different,
but his painting too opens up a temporal dimension. For me, his painterly transformation of the
snapshot I sent him results in a memory image that now affects the way I see the original photograph.
I have used this snapshot rather thoughtlessly several times in recent years on flyers and posters for
lectures. So it has traveled, has appeared in multiple poster designs in the U.S. and abroad, all of them
long since forgotten. It still has staying power on Google, among the bizarre algorithmically concocted
and chaotic mix of portrait and group photos taken at public events, book and journal covers, and other
only tangentially related images that one has no idea how or why they ended up together.
It is now Luca’s painting, which I witnessed developing in stages via email, that brings back memories of
the time and place where it was taken, during a lively discussion at a conference on memory politics in
Girona years ago. I spoke about the uses and abuses of forgetting, a topic that has gone academically

viral across the world in recent decades and had special resonance in post-Franco Spain. Looking self-
consciously at my likeness in the electronically transmitted photograph of the painting now, other

related memories emerge: memories of strolls through the old Jewish quarter of Girona and of the days
after the conference when my wife Nina Bernstein and I went to near-by Portbou where Walter

Benjamin committed suicide when he was denied transit in his attempt to flee the Nazis. He was buried
in an unmarked grave. Photography and death, it is a constellation that has accompanied this visual
technology in practice andin theory since its beginnings when stills from the Paris morgue were a
favorite subject.
In Portbou we admired Dani Karavan’s Passages, his stunning memorial to Benjamin: the tunneled dark
passageway down through the rocky shore toward the sea, which shimmered brightly in sunlight below,
promising escape just as a thick pane of glass blocked the end of the downward stairs. The feeling of
being trapped just as escape seemed possible was overwhelming. It triggered a mimetic desire to find
the hotel in Portbou where Benjamin spent the last night of his life, and to trace Benjamin’s flight across
the border from France into Spain. Taking advantage of today’s absence of internal European borders,
we drove the short distance across the high foothills of the Pyrenees into France, past a now abandoned
customs house. We parked the car near the top of the mountain, looking down from up high onto the
train station of Cerbère on the French side of the border. We continued on foot up the stony barren hill
direction Portbou until we could see the town and its cemetery on the bay, lying peacefully below us. As
mimesis of Benjamin’s and his group of refugees ascent and crossing, it was certainly inadequate. Yet it
did conjure up a time of closed borders and deadly entrapments, which resonate powerfully today: not
flight from fascist Europe, but migration into a Europe of closing external borders. Think of the powerful
entanglement of these two dimensions in Christian Petzold’s recent film Transit, based on the novel by
Anna Seghers, a compatriot of Benjamin’s who did make it out of Vichy France and to exile in Mexico at
the last minute.
Looking at Luca’s painting brought these memories back to the surface in light of current events, and I’m
grateful for having been pushed to put them into words. While never a complete reproduction of a past,
memory offers a rich palimpsest that helps us live and experience extended frameworks of time and

space. We have barely begun to understand how digital communications are challenging and
transforming this inherent human ability. Luca’s portraits anchor the photographed self at a time when
the accumulation of selfies and snapshots shared on Facebook or Instagram morphs into a collection of
arbitrary moments as continual present. But then the paintings will again take photographic form,
published in a book together with brief texts authored by the photos’ subjects: a unique project, which
confirms Benjamin’s controversial notion that any photograph needs a caption to be made legible. Now
I’m eager to see the painting itself. Or does that contradict the whole idea of an ‘original’ photograph
transformated into a painting that has an afterlife as photograph?
(Copyrights by Andreas Huyssen. 2019. All rights reserved)


"How do you recognize a world-famous scholar?"

The virtual academy that Luca del Baldo is composing is based upon the
essential principle of the portrait: the absence of the model. The effigy is
always representative. In the strict sense of the term: the image occupies
the place of the one who is not there. Already Leon Battista Alberti knew
about this specific characteristic, when he encouraged his
contemporaries to mold the faces, the heads of one’s friends in clay, in
order to be surrounded by them even though they might be distant. And
so, in the splendid isolation of his atelier on lake Como, the painter is
encircled by an increasing series of personalities that are important to
him: authors, philosophers, historians of art. People that work and write
on the power and force of the image, that represent the ocular thought.
I do not know, if anyone of them has ever personally visited the atelier.
Usually the painter solicits photographs and chooses the one that in his
eyes comes closest to what he has learned and deduced from the
persons writings. He then transforms the chemical trace of the
photographic surface in a pictorial gesture, in a stylistic cipher, proper
only to him – a virtuosic translation, interpretative, becoming steadily
more independent.
But the photos on which del Baldo relies are, commonly, taken by others.
I do not think that anyone has sent a selfie – only the most audacious
would have done so. This means, that the authors are already two. Like
me, also most of the others will have asked a confidant to take the
picture. A person of trust, of whom you can be sure that you will be
looked at with affection, sympathy, even tenderness. But the camera
works according to its own technical rules, which means that another
“author” comes into play. And since one postures, attitudinizes, tries to
appear in the most appealing (or: authoritative) manner in front of the
lens, also the model claims its part of the ”invention”. The paternities of
the portrait are hence multiple. Although the brush of the artist, his
choice of the detail, the colors, the light, his hand determine its final
apparition more than anything else.
So what do we see? Whom do we see? We are always inclined to read
in faces. The pseudo-science of the physiognomy, from Giambattista
della Porta (De humana physiognomonia, 1586) to Johann Caspar
Lavater (Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beförderung der
Menschenkenntnis und Menschenliebe, 4 vol., 1775–78) has
encouraged generations to deduce from the individual traits and features
the character of the person, his virtues and his defects. But the German
naturalist, mathematician and virtuoso of aphorism, Georg Christoph
Lichtenberg (1742-1799), has reminded us early that “We judge hourly
from the face and we err hourly” (Wir urteilen stündlich aus dem Gesicht
und irren stündlich.) It was the premonition to be at fault, to abuse, to
derive risky speculations from the facial features. The physiognomy in
fact represents the dark side of the Enlightenment – the “hygiene of the
race” has exploited it merciless.
It seemed pertinent to me to recall this chapter also in front of Luca del
Baldo’s illustrious gallery. Not only numerous instances are involved in
the genesis of these portraits – what makes them the result of just as
many personal (or technical) interpretations. The “essence” of the model
is covered by multiple stratifications. Every portrait is the sum of varied
perspectives, fixed in an ultimate gesture by the artist. And every canvas
is the result of different dialogues that made it originate. The last and
certainly most decisive being that with the painter himself. Aligned in the
artist’s studio, a new colloquium develops among the pictures. But it is
an artistic conversation. A debate on the capacities, but also on the limits
of portraiture, and one on the artist’s sovereignty.
Because we should not cherish an illusion. We should remain skeptical
also in front of ourselves. There is an anecdote that is precious to me,
and not only because I am a resident of Basle. When the Swiss cultural
historian Jacob Burckhardt – then already well-established as the author
of the Cicerone and The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, what
generated an increasing requirement of diffusible images of him – was
encouraged by his family to have his picture taken, he put on his Sunday
suit and resorted to the local photographer in Basle. After knocking at the
studio’s door, he asked the Photographer to be portrayed. That declined
the wish, explaining: “Today that’s impossible, unfortunately. We await a
world-famous scholar.”
 (Copyrights by Andreas BEYER. 2018. All rights reserved)



In consequence of luck and longevity, I have had three overlapping careers. The first career, that of an artist, was facilitated by the circumstance of serving as a soldier for nearly four years in World War II. The experience helped straighten out the muddle of my youth, but practically, I benefited from the GI Bill of Rights, under which I had four years of free tuition in whatever university that would have me. In Detroit, where I grew up, culture was embodied in two white marble buildings, the main library of Detroit, and, across Woodward Avenue, the Detroit Museum of Art. Wayne University was a constellation of buildings behind the library. But for as long as I can remember, I wandered the galleries of the various collections, and decided early on that I would be an artist, so really, the DIA, as it now is called, gave me my education. The art program at Wayne in those years was fairly bland, but the remarkable collection of German Expressionist art, and particularly the prints made by Schmitt-Rothloff, Kokoshka, Pechstein, Nolde and the others, were my texts. I began to carve the end-pieces of fruit boxes, and taught myself print-making. I did some painting but I had no gift for color. I did, however, show the woodcuts at a gallery on West Grand Boulevard. And I submitted my prints to national and international exhibitions, which landed them in important collections. I completed my education in two years, since I was given credit connected with my military service. I had learned French in Morocco, Italian in Italy, where I made the landings near Battipaglia before being taken in trucks to Naples. The Germans had moved out, but forced a battle in Monte Casino. I had two years remaining on the GI Bill, so I decided to move to New York and ? this is characteristic of my life ? I decided to use the time to study philosophy. As an artist, I had little difficulty finding galleries in New York, and Columbia accepted me on probation, since I had not been able to take the introductory course in philosophy at Wayne. I also applied to NYU ? New York University ?, which turned me down unless I took sixteen hours of undergraduate work. Naturally I chose Columbia despite the probation, though I have to admit that I was pretty much at sea. As there was little likelihood of becoming a professor anyway, I learned what I could, meanwhile building my art career. I thought I would probably wind up an art teacher somewhere, though my work was bought and shown and reviewed. I studied with Suzanne Langer, the author of Philosophy in a New Key. Her mentor, Ernst Cassirer, who had come to Columbia as visiting professor, died abruptly in front of the Faculty as he turned to answer a student?s question, and the department appointed Suzanne to finish his courses. She was attractive and European, and entered the classroom with a cello. I wrote a paper on Kant?s Third Critique for her, which she liked a great deal. But the department was not especially supportive of her, since she was a woman. Male professors of no great distinction said that women were just not able to do philosophy. But in truth, I must admit, I could see very little connection between the philosophy of art as written by philosophers down the ages, and the great art that was displayed in the few galleries that promoted Abstract Expressionism ? Betty Parsons ,Sidney Janis, and Samuel Kootz - were the main sponsors. In April, 1949, there was an article in Life magazine on Jackson Pollock, whom it implied was the greatest living artist. That article was what drew me to New York. I decided to superimpose Pollock?s style on the German expressionist style I had adopted. But I found that I had a gift for philosophy, and began to publish articles in Mind, The Journal of Philosophy, the Review of Metaphysics etc. I wrote a worthless dissertation. I wanted to do a piece of real philosophy, but I was not yet up to that. I certainly had no interest in writing on aesthetics, since it had so little to do with the art that engaged me. I got interested in the philosophy of history, and applied for a Fulbright Fellowship in the first year that they were offered, and won a year in Paris, where I naturally got interested in Existentialism. Paris was pretty much the same as it was entre les deux guerres. Naturally, I wore a beret. Meanwhile, the universities, which expanded to accommodate veterans, were hiring teachers, and I was able to find a job at the University of Colorado. I found two recently hired philosophers, Christopher Jackson, who was a student of Gilbert Ryle, and John Nelson, who was a student of Norman Malcolm, a student of Wittgenstein. I learned analytical philosophy from them, which I knew nothing about from the classes at Columbia. That really was my philosophical education, since Malcolm sent us mimeographed copies of the Blue Book, the Brown Book, and the Mathematical Notes by Wittgenstein, and we studied these together. Unfortunately, the job lasted only a year. The veterans had run out, which coincided with a generation of students born at the height of the Depression. Back in New York, I completed my dissertation, and had a piece of exceptional luck. I met one of my professors, Justus Buchler, in the book store, He offered me a job teaching in the great general education course, Contemporary Civilization. I phoned my wife, Shirley Rovetch, who had stayed in Detroit, to tell her that I had a job at Columbia. She told me that she was pregnant. Any job was precarious until one had tenure, but I jammed my foot in the door and received tenure in 1961. We took our two daughters, Elizabeth and Jane, to Paris. France was at war with its colony, Algeria. Sometimes the Seine carried the bodies of Algerians, killed by the OAS ? ?The Secret Army Organization? ? who also blew up buildings around St Germain, and began to use torture in Algiers. It was no place for children, so we drove south to the Cote d?Azur, where we found a marvelous villa on the Escalier de la Gendarmerie. I wrote my first book, Analytical Philosophy of History there Once finished with that, we moved to Rome, where we found an attico on the Via Fogliano. I spent time in the German Library, reading the bound volumes of Nietzsche?s correspondence. which led to my second book, Nietzsche as Philosopher. Both books were published in 1965. I loved writing books. At the meeting of the American Philosophical Association, someone asked if I was really publishing two books. He said he supposed they were anthologies, and I answered that they were real books. I felt that the era of articles was coming to an end. But In 1964, I wrote an essay, ?The Art World.? It raised but hardly answered the question of the difference between art works and real things, if they look indiscernible. The question arose with Andy Warhol?s show at the Stable Gallery, which consisted of copies of grocery boxes, and most particularly the Brillo Boxes, which captured my imagination. That essay changed the direction of aesthetics, but I was not to write further on the subject until 1978, the year Shirley died. The mid-sixties was a very productive time, roughly my forthieth year, which the ancients considered the prime of life. I decided to carry forward a somewhat Hegelian agenda: to write a five volume work on analytical philosophy. The unifying concept was that of representation. Analytical Philosophy of History introduced what I termed ?narrative sentences.? They accounted for the difference between stages of culture - between the Age of Enlightenment and Modernism ? though there was nophysiological difference between persons in the Eighteenth and Twentieth centuries. But I also developed a philosophy of action and a philosophy of knowledge. The fourth volume would be on art and the final volume on mind. So when I entered the Stable Gallery, my head was full of advanced philosophy, by contrast with any art historian in the world. By time I was ready for my book on art, I was tired of what was happening in analytical philosophy. I called my book The Transfiguration of the Commonplace, a title I encountered in a novel by Muriel Spark. Basically it advanced a definition of art as an embodied meaning. It became a base for a whole new way of thinking, and has been translated into seventeen languages. The Transfiguration brought another piece of luck. Betsy Pochoda, who had returned to the Nation magazine, after a stint at Vanity Fair. The Nation is the oldest magazine of opinion in the United States, and from the beginning published art criticism. Frederick Olmstead, the visionary designer of Central Park, was one of its first art critics. Clement Greenberg wrote for it in the Forties. But the critic, Lawrence Alloway, had gotten sick, and no one replaced him. When Betsy returned, she was bent on Lawrence, and asked around for suggestions. Ben Sonnenberg, the editor of Grand Street, suggested me. Betsy phoned one day, and invited me to write about art for the magazine. I had never thought of writing criticism, but of course I said ?Yes!? I reviewed a wonderful show at the Whitney Museum: ?Blamp! New York Art 1957-1964? and Betsy murmured ? What a thrill!?when she read it. It was great to be paid for writing, and for prompvt publication. I was the art critic for the next 25 years. Most critics in New York were extremely conservative. John Canaday and Hilton Kramer at the New York Times were savage. Time Magazine hissed at Jackson Pollock. My interest was in the new, as in the movements of the Sixties: Fluxus, Pop, Minimalism, and Conceptual Art, after which movements more or less vanished, and the interest turned to single individuals who were thought to be promising. My interest was in explaining the new work, which brought an art-world readership to the magazine. I loved being a critic, and feel that the essays I published, combined with the Transfiguration of the Commonplace, is what I shall be remembered for when I am gone. If one lives long enough and has a bit of luck, everything works out. A distant colleague in the American Society of Aesthetics, Ewa Boltuc, a Polish aesthetician, is a print collector as well as a philosopher. She spotted one of my prints for sale on the Internet, and wrote me about it. I invited her to stop by when she next came to New York. Ewa was very taken with the work, and, as a woman of action, organized an exhibition at the museum at her university in Springfield Illinois. That is not far from the University of Illinois, whose director, Randy Auxier, went to see that show, and decided that his museum must have it. All that took place in 2010. Randy felt that some of my work should be printed in the forthcoming book, The Philosophy of Arthur C. Danto. I at first resisted, arguing that the art had nothing to do with philosophy. But in the end, I came around. In 1962, I had dismantled my studio, and devoted myself to philosophy and later to criticism. But the director of the collection at Wayne State asked me to make a gift of my woodblocks, which had been gathering dust for half a century. I gladly donated them. I certainly have neither the strength nor the drive to do art any longer. But it is part of what I am, along with the rest. For some while, I have been in correspondence with Luca Del Baldo, a remarkable artist. In fact I believe him to be the greatest portraitist in the world. He did an astonishing portrait of me, and all who saw it were astonished.He has now undertaken to do portraits of philosophers of art, and publish these portraits in a book, to accompany an exhibition. I have seen several of the portraits by now - of David Carrier, Hand Belting, Richard Shusterman, and Lydia Goehr. All of these have captured their expressions beyond the possibility of photography. I am thrilled to have been witness to this outpouring of great painting, and I would like to do what I can to give his work the recognition it deserves. Whoever sees these heads, luminous with truth, will acknowledge Del Baldo's exception gifts.
(Copyright by Arthur C. Danto, 2010. All rights reserved)


Many thanks Luca, for this image! What you’ve accomplished is enormously impressive.  

I’m gratified to have been included in the project and honored to be in the company of thinkers

and writers from whom I’ve learned so much.
(Copyright by Jonathan K. Crary, 2019)


Regarding Luca’s painting, although I am its subject, any comment I might make would be third-hand. I do not trust the kind of knowing we do at third hand, no matter its subject. The truth of the image is firstly Luca’s crafted truth. Secondly it is that of the event photographer (another Italian!) whose work spurred the painter’s first steps. To me, the required comment feels like an invitation to make some effort of compensation. As though the chasm between what I am and what Luca very concretely has made could be crossed and, in the crossing, known. It cannot.  

(Copyright by Darby English, 2019)


"Dear Luca,

your project is impressive...

My problem with it is that I do not like the tone in which most of the individuals you have worked with write about themselves-- it seems to me to be too self- important, too much fuss about the individual-- what I admire those people for is not a photograph of them, but the work itself.

The final chapter of my book Roof Life ( in French Tuilages) is titled Self-Seen..I begin the chapter by considering two photographs of myself taken by my companion Michael Baxandall ( dead 10 years now) -- what interested me was not how I look but how I was seen by Michael.

I believe in the words I wrote about those pictures .

ever Svetlana"

On my desk, to the right of where | sit, there are two small photographs. They are propped up against a strip of wall in the narrow space behind the pencil box of pale wood brought back from a trip to New Zealand by one of my sons. That shadowed strip of wall, along the arm of the I-shaped desk beneath the high wall of book shelves, is layered with bits of paper. Phone numbers, addresses, postcards, some resonant words printed out from friends’ e-mails and more are all tacked up. The photographs are not of family or friends. They are photographs made of me by M.

It happens that they both were taken from the same distance and angle—the face seen close-up in % view from the left and slightly below, body seen to the waist in a black top, eyes looking to my right. | have gotten used to myself in that expanded profile, hair pushed back, the further eye and cheek glimpsed beyond the large nose, a shadowed crease leading down from it to the corner of the mouth, the line of the jaw interrupted by a bit of loose flesh. In the photograph at the right, the arms are raised, hands behind head, elbows jutting out from sleeves pushed up, back resting against the curve of a white plastic chair with a blur of garden leaves beyond. In the left one, the face and neck in bright light stand out above the v-neck of a black sweater before an interior wall faintly seen.

People often don’t like how they look in photographs. But what does that mean? How do you know how you look, or what you look like --an odd phrase that is. When | look to the right and see the photographs, that is me. There | am as seen, known and the point is, made known to myself through M’s eyes. The face in the photos doesn't smile. lt is at rest, set, but in a relaxed way, conscious perhaps of being observed. Disposed to being looked at, let’s say. M. is there indirectly too, in the record of how he saw me after lunch sitting in a chair in the garden of the gite at Dracy and again a year or so later standing in twilight in the splendid 18" century salon of the apartment in Dijon lent us by friends.

(Copyright by Svetlana Alpers, 2013.  From "Roof Life". Courtesy Yale University Press)