Luca Del Baldo's portrait paintings

In Europe, the old master tradition was dominated by history paintings. Grand scenes from Greco-Roman history or Scripture, these were the most highly approved subjects of art. Nicolas Poussin, who was a history painter reluctantly did a self-portrait in 1650 under pressure by a patron. Normally he was too ambitious and too busy to bother with painting portraits. 

Like the pure landscape and the still life, the portrait was in the seventeenth-century an odd marginal artistic genre. 
In the eighteenth century, in his lectures for the Royal Academy Sir Joshua Reynolds praised the history paintings of Michelangelo and Raphael, while admitting that in his own culture the most important art forms were the landscape and the portrait. 

This self-portrait dates from 1780. In Protestant England, the gentry purchased old master religious art, but there was little market for large-scale contemporary sacred art or for history paintings. Landscapes and portraits were the dominant genres for English artists. 

Modernism, with its emphasis upon the painting of scenes of contemporary life effectively killed history painting. Edouard Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian (1867-69) treats that contemporary event with all of the seriousness an old master would give to a historical scene. Like the other Impressionists, he also painted some important portraits. The important subjects for an artist of contemporary life were café scenes, cityscapes landscapes, and the individuals shown in portraits.

In the twentieth century, portraiture again became a relatively minor genre. Pablo Picasso’s great Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1910), a marvelous exercise in cubism, shows his patron and dealer in a style in which few sitters, even the most adventuresome, would find attractive. Henri Matisse, similarly, though he painted some portraits, did not develop a mode of visual thinking well suited to doing images of recognizable individuals. And then such varied styles of painting as Futurism, Surrealism, and, most especially Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism did not support portraiture. When corporate CEOs or political officials retire, they have their portraits painted. But the artists who made such pictures were not generally of much importance within the art world. 

The most important late modernist to do portraits was Andy Warhol. When in the 1970s he did portraits of fellow artists, movie stars and anyone who was rich enough, he was highly criticized for being so very commercial. Logically speaking, that complaint makes no sense. All artists, from the most serious abstractionists to the frankly commercial decorators depend upon art market sales. But while many critics were willing to admire Warhol’s portraits when he made self-portraits, or images of celebrities like Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, works that could be interpreted as modern history paintings, they did not take seriously his commissioned portraits, which in fact have much in common with Reynolds’s presentations of his patrons.

Luca del Baldo came of age, then, at a time when portraiture was a relatively marginal genre. He does, of course, make images of varied subjects, paintings about death for example, but here I focus exclusively on what I know best, his portraits. More exactly, since I am fortunate enough to possess a portrait of myself by him I focus on that one painting. 

The Swiss-German art historian Heinrich Wölfflin pioneered the traditional art history lecture procedure, employing parallel dual-slide comparisons. You can learn a lot about the baroque by comparing classical art, and much about German painting by juxtaposing Italian pictures. Emulating that procedure, I show another portrait of me, this one by the American artist and art historian Jonathan Weinberg. 

How astonishingly different are these two images. Del Baldo works from photographs; he painted my portrait before we met. Weinberg works from life. Three years ago at the Clark Institute I met him. He is a magnetic personality and so, after we talked frequently at length I wanted that he paint my portrait. When working he allows you to talk, but you need to sit still. After he did an initial version of the painting, he took a photograph, which he used to revise the painting. His painting, which is much larger than del Baldo’s, poses me before some works of art. Recently I’d lectured in India, and so the colorful little pictures I’d brought back made a nice contrast to my dark sweater.

Consider, finally, two other portraits of me. Both of these are photographs. When I published my account of comics my mother unearthed a photo. There I am, ten years old reading a comic. 

The inventive designer uses a thought balloon to enclose the title of my book, as if to show that long ago I was already thinking of publishing a book about comics. (That of course is a fiction.) And twelve years ago when I moved to teach in Cleveland, I posed for my faculty photograph in the Cleveland Museum of Art. 

I chose to appear in front of Caravaggio’s The Crucifixion of St. Andrew (1610) because I have published a long essay about him.

These four portraits, the two paintings and the two photographs, are all recognizably of me, but how different they are! Weinberg’s and del Baldo’s paintings express very diverse sensibilities. Weinberg, an important pioneering scholar devoted to ‘queer studies’, has written extensively about gay male art. 

You need only compare the covers of his books and paintings with the art illustrated on del Baldo’s website to see that they are very different sorts of persons and artists.

As for the two photographs of me, they illustrate very different stages of my life. I remember little of my childhood in Southern California, when I enjoyed reading comic books. I recall more, obviously!, about my life circa 2000 when I moved to Cleveland to teach art history. At that time, I had recently written about the paintings of Caravaggio and the other artists, Poussin amongst them displayed in the local museum. Soon enough, however, I moved on to other very different interests. I wrote a study of the museum, with a special focus on the Cleveland Museum of Art. And, then, did a study of world art history, which took me to India, where I purchased the little pictures illustrated in Weinberg’s portrait of me. I am thankful to these two painters, whose images of me are the occasion of happy daily reflection. (Both paintings are in my house.) And to my mother, Louise Farcher Carrier, who fifty six years ago took the photograph of me. This essay is dedicated to her memory. With love. 

(copyright by David Carrier. All rights reserved)


To encourage me to write a piece, Luca del Baldo kindly sent me some examples of writings by his other sitters. I recognized many of the strategies that had passed through my own mind as I wondered: ‘What does an art historian do when asked to write about a portrait that is undertaken as a portrait of a thinker or a writer?’.

As it happens, in my capacity as feminist writer on art, I have pondered a very specific question. What are the visual tropes that are available to signify the conjunction of the terms woman and thinker, let alone and creative artist. Feminist studies long since identified the profound correlation between image and woman, which is not only commonplace in our popular culture but has its roots in the art theory of the sixteenth century.

In a series of brilliant articles the American art historian Mary Garrard analysed two remarkable self-portraits: one by Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625) of Cremona in and another by the Roman painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656). Both play a subtle intellectual game with the viewer. Anguissola paints a picture of a painter at work on a canvas. The painter is a man, Bernardino Campi, who is named in the title. Thus we have a portrait of a painter at work. This is signified by the painting before his on his easel , the image of a woman on the canvas, and both his posture and gesture. The canvas bears, however, the image of a noble woman, the presumed sitter whose exquisitely embroidered robe he is currently painting although he has turned from the canvas to look across his shoulder, out of the picture space, at the dress of the imagined sitter. Yet the author of this painting of Bernardino Campi painting a beautiful woman is, in fact, the beautiful noblewoman herself, namely the painter Sofonisba Anguissola. Why, however, would one artist paint another artist painting her in such a way as to place her self-image in the imaginary space of another’s artistic creation?

Careful analysis of the distribution of luminosity versus shadow and the different intensities of the painted gazes allows Mary Garrard to argue that Anguissola is negotiating, by means of this double portrait, the complexity of her position as aristocrat, woman and painter—already a novel but not impossible configuration in the mid-sixteenth century. More Importantly she is cleverly playing back to her imagined audience aspects of contemporary art theory. That theory held that the most beautiful form of painting as the formulation of beauty is the painting of a beautiful woman. Can Anguissola represent her quality as an artist by demonstrating her own ability to produce this equation through her skill as a painter while reclaiming, at the same time, the more significant role as the creator of beauty, the artist, reducing the masculine artist Campi to being the product and image of her creativity.

In the painting now labelled Self Portrait as La Pittura (London: Royal Collection, 1638-9), Gentileschi also played back to the contemporary artworld a similar entanglement of image, iconography and the problematic position within both of the woman who makes art. ‘La Pittura’ is the allegorical figure of painting or image. According to Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia, La Pittura is to be represented as a woman with dishevelled and wild hair ( inspiration) in a beautiful multi-toned dress of scintillating colours, with a necklace bearing an image of a mask representing imitation, at work with a palette and brush. She should also have a bridle on her face covering her mouth to indicate the muteness of painting.

Gentileschi dispenses with that silencing gag; but she conforms to all the other requirements. As a result in older, sexist times that is until 1962,, the image hung in the Royal Collection as an anonymous representation of this allegory. Then cleaning revealed the signature linking the painting to Artemisia Gentileschi also known as Lomi, who had come to the court of Charles I to work with her estranged father Orazio. Once art historians looked harder at this work and bothered to study Gentileschi’s considerable oeuvre it became clear that the artist had used her own features, disrupting the allegorical by claiming for the image of painting as a woman, an image of a woman painting. Using her features does not make it a Self Portrait because this device is more complex.

Garrard places this work in conversation with Velasquez (1599-1660), Las Meninas (1656) as examples of grand painterly statements by seventeenth century artists asserting, to their royal patrons, the importance of the painter. The artist no longer perceives her or his worth in terms of being a royal servant or of being the vessel of a divine spark. Instead, Garrard argues both paintings assert the correlation of art with work, with a special kind of work, however, artistic work which can only be represented by both the exercise of material making and the invention of the image as the paradoxical object that is both product and image of production.

Gentileschi’s problem is different from that of Velasquez, who shows himself creating the image of the very sovereign power he is quietly contesting by representing his gaze observing his sitters in order to create an image neither his sovereign nor his viewers can see, even as this painting makes him the de-centred subject of this vast work.

Gentileschi had to negotiate an ideology already inside the image itself, which could and did indeed collapse image and act so as to efface the creative woman in her image for many centuries to come.

Unlike the many essays I have read of men who have been portrayed, who symptomatically struggle with the exercise of looking at images of themselves, my conversation with Luca del Baldo in relation to his portraits of me involve a different relation between my gender and the image as well as a different iconographical and semiotic relation between woman and intellectual. One of my projects, many years ago, solicited by an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery of Self Portraits by artists who are women, was a rambling exploration of the problem of the missing iconography in western art of woman as intellectual, let alone as creative artist. The woman as intellectual does not have what the artist has at her disposal: the means to refashion the existing iconography, not always successfully in terms of recognition as I have suggested in the case of Gentileschi’s doubly misnamed painting. (First it was just La Pittura, now it is Self Portrait as La Pittura: neither catches what is really going on and no title could name the disruption that is being performed).

I sent Luca two photographs, first one and then he requested a second one to do a second portrait. Something in the first felt not quite right. The first was a snapshot taken by my daughter as I sat at my desk turning away from my computer. I like this image because of the intensity of the gaze. Was that possible between two women both of whom are acutely aware of the conventions by which women are represented? When you have a passport photo taken you are required not to smile, not to open your mouth to look straight ahead. We know what kind of horrors that formulation can produce. Now face recognition technology used in passport control requires the same expressionless offering of the face to the inhuman look of the digital scanner. The other image was a commissioned portrait photograph taken several years later in which lighting and background produce the falsity of the formal look. You stand sideways on, head slightly cocked and avoid beaming smiles that crinkle up the eyes while having to soften the face with a hint of a warmth in an incipient smile. The second photograph, the older version, betrays a surprising sense of uncertainty, a shadow of the anxiety of offering oneself to this process of having an image taken. It becomes a performance of a certain ‘femininity for the camera’, whereas the earlier image has a directness, frankness, even a certain intensity delivered because it is less self-conscious. The difference between the two, as I read them as a feminist analyst of the image, is a difference between an image of a gaze and an image offered to a gaze. In this case the forthright gaze, intensified by the close crop excluding the cluttered background of my study becomes the visual signifier of intellectual activity.

In the age of the philosophes of the Enlightenment, a different iconography was generated for the new secular intellectual. Louis-Michel Van Loo (1707-71) painted Encyclopaedist Denis Diderot (1713-84) in 1767. Wigless, in a wonderful purple silk dressing gown Diderot sits at a desk, quill in hand, poised above the paper on which he is writing. He has paused in mid-stream to look up but away from the painter, as if absorbed in inner thoughts, a condition further indicated by his left hand raised and almost pointing to the invisible point of the gaze the thinker processing the thought that will soon be set down on the paper. Closer to home (art that is) Anton Maron (1733-1808) portrayed the founder of art history, Vatican library Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68) also in 1767. His indoor robe is even more glorious—an enviable salmon pink, fur-lined silk robe with an almost matching turban to warm his hairless head. He, too, is at his desk, quill in hand, resting on his manuscript. He is studying and writing about an engraving of Emperor Hadrian’s beloved, Antoninous. He has stopped writing to look out, his gaze directed at the point at which the painter once and the viewer now stands. As if opening the conversation, his left hand is also ‘talking’ with its open demonstrative gesture. Both of these portraits locate the visually gorgeous in the accessories—the costume—while gaze and hands indicate thought or analysis. The intellectual also has attributes of work: the materials for setting down thought— writing—and in the case of the art historian as intellectual, he is given the object of both analytical (and erotic) gazing. Winckelmann’s outward gaze is a steady as Diderot’s is inwardly activated by being shown as outwardly distracted from the immediate world of things.

In neither of my portraits are there the tools of my trade nor the objects of my professional activity. Neither are there any devices such as we see in Anguissola’s or Gentileschi’s calculated artistic gambits that undo the dominant ideological tropes that render their gendered creativity invisible even as they might become the sign of the visible image as woman. What you are seeing then in these two images is not the visual sign of GRISELDA POLLOCK, an author name, a name associated with the spines of books or academic citation. But then what relation is she to a woman sitting in her study being photographed by her daughter, or a woman being professionally photographed for her university’s compensatory, patronising, possibly reparative exhibition of ‘Women of Achievement’. We form a gallery in the great Parkinson Court of the University of Leeds in a context where the Council Chamber like so many academic institutions surround the room with portrait after portrait of the men who have run the world for ever. None of them smile shyly. They are stern and steadfast to a man. It is a confusing situation. Be visible under a rubric that sets you apart as the exceptional ‘Women of Achievement’ or remain invisible. Of course things are changing and there are portraits of Vice Chancellors who are women. There are even portraits of women as political leaders. But there again we find the problem. A Man in a suit is the Prime Minister or President. The Woman in her suit is an object of press trivialisation and comment for the price of the suit or the shoes, the designer, the style: in a word fashion and attractiveness.

I think Luca likes the second portrait better as it is probably a more’ human’ portrait. For me the originating photograph is pierced by complexity and political unease. The composition of the first portrait feels bolder because there is so little space around the face to contain the figure. It is a portrait that relentlessly brings the viewer face to face with… just that a face, but also a head, without the body, with little flesh or fleshiness, with look that that signifies more closely what I do: look, study, analyse, examine, closely. As an image of an art historian, it does not create the kind of additional signs that we find in Maron’s image of Winckelmann. It embodies the act of intense attentiveness in a gaze that matches the incoming look at it as a painting. The effect of the older portrait now comes to me as quizzical, with a hint of the first image in the liveliness of the look. But scale, setting and the wonderfully rich painterly realization of skin tones and the signs of time and laughter written on the face make an image that is more containable as a portrait of a woman, mature, solid, direct. Yes, indeed. But the intensity of the earlier portrait with its frontality, its leaning forward to meet the incoming look of the spectator and the focus of the image in the eyes speaks to me as an art historian wondering how images can loosen the bond between concept of the feminine as that which is looked at and fashions itself to be looked at, and, on the other hand, the concept of the thinker, the intellectual, the writer who is not only a woman but a feminist, a woman who professionally interrogates such questions.

I am glad there are two images. I am happy to have had this (one-sided) conversation with this remarkable painter.

One final comment. Some years ago, in 2002, in a curious twist of time I returned to Florence/ Firenze for the first time since 1964, the year my mother tragically died very young. The journey was heavy with that memory of a summer of sun- and art-filled mourning. For reasons that cannot be explained I had come equipped in 2002 on this return with paints, paper and brushes and with the intention of painting the Tuscan landscape. Thus I took up painting, untrained but probably inspired by what I call painting-envy, having spent so many decades analysing and explaining and teaching generations of fine art and art history students to ‘see’ painting. After sating myself visually on olive groves and lavender fields, I continued to paint when I returned home. Now I turned to memory rather than te world outside. I drew on the family’s photo album discovering a r treasure trove of images created by doting parents of tiny, now grown, children. As an art historian who had studied long and written many times on the work of the nineteenth century Paris-based American painter, Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), I found myself in renewed dialogue with that painter’s attentive study of the strange qualities of the infant and child as ‘becoming-humans’. It was Cassatt who had noticed how strange and different babies and small children are compared to adult’s in terms of bodies, faces and their gestures. As a painter, I was infected with Cassatt’s scrupulous attention to their unformed faces and soft uncoordinated differently proportioned bodies as much as their perplexed or inquiring gazes at a world as yet dimly understood. I was not, however, as was Mary Cassatt, observing the living, wriggling child before her as model. My sources were already stilled by photography, which means, in many cases, they were captured looking directly at the photographer, being photographed.

My home is now filled with the awful products of this obsession. This means that the imaginary creatures look at me and at any visitor with the relentless gazes of many eyes. Indeed, when visiting my house, the curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev commented specifically in this curious effect of being looked at from every wall. This is the effect of my translation of what is normal, of course, in a photograph, but disconcerting when it is re-materialized into the conventions of painting. The gaze of the photograph is a transaction between something offered to a photo-mechanical gaze even if there is a photographer behind the camera. The gaze in the painting is produced by an observation searching through the artistically trained eye for the details that, if faithfully followed or materially registered will construct an image that is rebuilt stroke by stroke, wash by wash, passage by passage. Thus painting from photographs which formally also ‘build’ a picture means painting a stilled, freeze frame rather than watching the unstable living other over time to distill a composite ‘sense’ of this other in one’s own pictorial mode.

Perhaps this explains my love of the first image from which Luca del Baldo painted his first portrait. It has that same strange starkness that comes from the original photograph. It is something I reproduce in my paintings, seeking to see if the process of painting, another form of prolonged looking can pierce the momentary flash (archaic idea I know) that ‘took’ the photograph and take us closer to the presence that the eyes alone reveal in a human face.

What are these coloured orbs? What is it they do in a face? The great and genuine portraitist finds her or his sitter in every feature, every trace of time written on the skin, every jut of the jaw, every curl of an ear, every, fall of the hair, every swell of the nostrils. The person is the face as a whole. For me, because these features in children are so softened and formless, it is the eyes that that indicate the person already present even in an immature and changing form. So it is that the first portrait remains strange but wonderful, while the second, a real portrait, remains estranged from me. This replicates my feeling about the two photographs from which both are taken. The second portrait tells more of what I look like perhaps, while the first in its abrupt present-ness and direct gaze battles against the conventions of representation, ideology, tradition posing the question of what is good as art and what is good when it breaks through the deepest relations between art and the visual politics of gender.

(copyright by Griselda Pollock. All rights reserved, 2018)


Three careers

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 prompt 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, Hans 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. 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)

M I E K E    B A L :

Allo-portraits: Collaboration Between Mirror and Mask 

I see all people behind their masks. Smiling, peaceful faces, pale and silently hurrying along a weaving road where its end is the grave.        Edvard Munch 1

Does a portrait present us with the person depicted – a ‘likeness’? That remains to be seen. The portrait is a classical genre. The genre of portraiture is usually discussed without reflection on the affiliated genre of the self-portrait. I will argue that in the fissure between these two, we can see the most characteristic feature of both: the presence of otherness. The term “allo-portrait” can thus be deployed to think about both. They are equally strongly anchored in the representation of a face. What allo-portraits have in common is the questioning confusion of self and other – a confusion conducive to thought. This is the basis of their philosophical relevance. That variety alone undermines the humanistic certainties regarding the face, its depth, and its individual uniqueness. Many portraits are self-portraits, and some of the greatest artists – Rembrandt, Munch – are near-obsessive self-portraitists. Yet, there is one key difference between the two genres: the primary tool of the self-portrait is the mirror, which is entirely irrelevant in portraiture. Portraiture, on the other hand, is based on what the artist sees. This may be the friendly face of someone he or she knows, but it may also be, and has often been, the way the sitter wishes to be immortalized. That is, at least, the premise of most studies of the portrait. Perhaps the last classical account of this classical genre is Richard Brilliant’s 1991 book on the subject, which entirely rests on those premises that the twentieth century portrait has vehemently rejected.2 Edvard Munch, in the scribble that is my epigraph here, sees the portrait more as a mask – which is hiding, rather than revealing, whatever “essence” – personality or character – a person might possess. In accordance with my view that later art “remakes” older art, in the sense that the latter cannot be seen without the screen of the former modifying what we see, contemporary or more broadly, modern art changes the portrait, even the much older instances of it. In an essay that is crucial for the understanding of modern portraiture, Ernst van Alphen distinguishes portraiture from common presuppositions. One of those is the affiliation, in classical depictions, with royal, noble, and bourgeois self-importance; another is the mimetic or realistic presupposition, the idea of likeness; a third is the idea that portraits capture a person’s essence. Van Alphen alleges many important portraitists from the twentieth century who all, in different ways, undermine these classical notions. Instead, as the final sentence of the essay has it: “Portraiture as a genre has become the form of new conceptions of subjectivity and new notions of representation – a genre that does not take its assigned place in history but embattles what history has naturalized” (2005: 21-47).3 

But what is it that history had naturalized, but shouldn’t have? A discussion of the authenticity – or not – of self-portraits by Rembrandt in the double-voiced catalogue with the exhibition Rembrandt / Not Rembrandt, held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1995 in New York, sheds light on the relationship between portraiture and self-portraiture on the basis of the concepts van Alphen and the artists he discusses, emphatically reject. Some of the paintings included in the Rembrandt exhibition were self-portraits. The discussion of these demonstrated that the definition of that genre, as all genre definitions, affects judgments of value and decisions of attribution, of authenticity. Briefly put, the “self” of the face and the “self” of the hand are merged, as if they were of a single interest. There lies the presupposition I would like to use as a wedge. For example, in volume II, curator Walter Liedtke wrote about a beautiful selfportrait from 1660: “Rembrandt here reveals an extraordinary ability to describe physical qualities (which presumably were studied in a mirror) and simultaneously to suggest character” (1995: 76). This statement nicely sums up what the standard view of self-portraiture stipulates as features of the genre: description as mode, mirror as tool, and self as subject, the last being conceived as character, inner self, or personality, readable in facial features. What passes unnoticed is the theory of the face this implies.4 

Van Alphen’s view that the modern portrait corresponds, rather, to new conceptions of subjectivity can be taken to allude to, or at least, to include Lacan’s famous brief but crucial explanation of the function of the mirror-stage in the formation of subjectivity. Rather than bringing the viewer or painter closer to the self, the mirror alienates from the self. Distance, reversal, and, most of all, seeing your own face as other, produce the estrangement that makes full subjectivity possible. In other words, the authenticity debates are based on the pre-mirror stage, the pre-symbolic imaginary. Genres consist of the self-evident definitions people “think in” or “live by” rather than of well-theorized categorizations. (Self-)portraiture is no exception. Because we think we know what a portrait is, we don’t question the notion of whether there is enough theoretical substantiation for such a category. 5 

It is a further note by Liedtke that is the occasion for my approach to portraiture in this brief essay. The curator quotes a remark by Joshua Bruyn that demonstrates the need to revise the classical conception. Bruyn is quoted to have said that in this picture “only the face is by Rembrandt.” It is a profoundly intriguing remark that put on the table the intersection of the two issues of authorship and genre, which are at the heart of any discussion of (self-)portraiture. I shall retain the place of the face in this remark. Incredibly, and apparently on the basis of this opinion of the then-leader of the Rembrandt Research Project, Christian Tümpel de-attributed the painting and catalogued it as “Circle of Rembrandt.” Given that in the nineties, the possible de-attribution of The Polish Rider also centered on the autograph face versus allo-graphic rest, this decision on Tümpel’s part is an astonishing but potentially important contribution to the discussion of the centrality of the face in figurative art in general, and (self-)portraiture in particular. Liedtke’s remark about the artist’s accomplishment would predict his disagreement with his colleague. At stake is not only the contestable issue of coherence, but more precisely, the centrality of the autograph face as a distinctive feature of the genre of self-portraiture. This centrality, plausible as it may seem, is not “natural” enough to be accepted without some reflection. 6 

The face is not simply a part of the human body. It is the one that facilitates connections between people and thus constitutes the interface of sociality. The face is, in this sense, both over-estimated and under-estimated. In order to get out of the kind of discussions in which Bruyn was able to make such a farcical even if at the same time, potentially profoundly productive, because so contestable, judgment of authenticity, and based on which, in turn, Tümpel was able to deprive the public by dis-attributing the painting, I propose to focus on the performativity of the face – the way it acts. This allows us both to consider self-portrait and portrait together, and to avoid essentialist views of what the face “expresses”. For this I shift for  a moment to the significant verb “to face”. To face is three acts at once. Literally, facing is the act of looking someone else in the face. It is also, coming to terms with something that is difficult to live down by looking it in the face rather than denying or repressing it. Thirdly, it is making contact, placing the emphasis on the second person, and acknowledging the need of that contact simply in order to be able to sustain life.7

This view leads completely away from the mirror (tool for self-portraiture) and, or versus, the mask, as a tool for sitting for portraiture, withholding self-revelation, replacing it with selfpresentation. It makes the distinction redundant. If we just assume that the self-portraitist also poses – wears a mask – since he or she presents the self self-consciously for a public, the mask is just as relevant as the mirror. And the disputes in Rembrandt scholarship make more sense when we consider, in terms of facing, the possibility of that intermediate genre, the selfportrait made by someone else, commissioned or not. In both cases – of the doubted selfportrait and the overly-posed portrait, hence, a portrait of another, whether or not the features on the painting resemble either the sitter or the artist – we can call the result an “allo-portrait”. This would be the reverse of Leonardo’s famous claim that all painting is, unconsciously, selfportraiture.8 I would like to complement this view with the thesis that all portraiture is allo-, in relation to the self as well as to other sitters, even in the case of self-portraiture, and hence, that a selfportrait commissioned from another artist, or done by students, deserves the genre label as much or as little as an autographic one. Between the hand and the face, and the performativity of both, they would have, inevitably, aspects of auto- and aspects of allo-. An instructive example of the commissioned self-portrait is the photographic self-positioning of the run-away, then emancipated American slave Fredrick Douglass, which he systematically (had) made, and which he used to put forward his political argument for emancipation. Prefiguring the later view of subjectivity mentioned above, he poses for the camera, stages himself the way he wants to be seen – the Munchian mask – and thus shows himself and hides himself at the same time, in the same image. The many photographs, as numerous and emphatically “self”- oriented as the self-portraits of Rembrandt and Munch – two instances I happen to have studied – cannot be  generically distinguished from the autographic self-portraits that constitute the basis of the genre.9

In a study of Goya, Tzvetan Todorov gives two further indication that, I think, support my attempt to integrate the two genres. One is the caricature. Todorov writes that the fact that the caricature distances the subject from his habitual self allows the image to become truer, since “the mask tells the truth that the deceptive façade of the naked face hides”. The caricature “simplifies and amplifies the features of the face in order to makes visible what one tends usually to keep secret”. (64) Eliminating redundant features and deploying hyperbole, the artist is better equipped to reach the truth of the person, rather than judging them subjectively, as caricatures tend to do. In a slightly different vein, later in the book the author praises, precisely, the recognition of the subjectivity of the look. But then, he is discussing the self-portraiture, which in Goya’s case is a remarkable contribution to muddling the genre waters. Not only are his self-portraits amazingly devoid of narcissism, but also, one of his most beautiful self-portraits show the artist/sitter being attended to, with tenderness, by someone else. (275) Thus, with portraiture, self-portraiture, caricature and what is more easily seen as a genre painting, we must face that allo-portrait, paradoxical as the notion is, seems the best proposal for a wider, more encompassing conception of portraiture.10 

Where does this leave the kind of portraits Luca del Baldo makes? His fine painting makes them entirely “auto-” in terms of his “hand” – they are most surely autographic. With “fine” I am emphatically not alluding to the so-called “fine painting” of utter realism in the seventeenth century, but to a combination of artistic and technical “finesse” – a thin (fine) brush stroke that nevertheless significantly doesn’t hide itself. The sitters are other people, but selected by the artist; that is already one step in the merging of self and other. Moreover, the portraits are based on photographs made by other hands, different from each sitter. But the sitters, or subjects, select the photographs. Hence, they choose a likeness to themselves; one they like. Given that choice they make, the photograph with its resemblance to the sitter, comes close to the mask Munch wrote about. Auto- and allo- move around, and it becomes impossible to distinguish them.

This allows other aspects to come to the fore. The faces we see in del Baldo’s collection are first of all just that: a collection. And the elements in collections, as distinct from arbitrary  storage, have something in common. In this case, it is the profession they share: the study of art, and hence, the knowledge and insight in, among many other genres, portraiture. The remarkable, and confusing feature is that each portrayed face belongs to a person who will recognize the other faces, since they are all colleagues, meet in conferences and other professional events. With the verb “recognition” I bring in another half-baked characteristic, this time of the act of looking. Looking (at art) is a mixture of recognition and innovation. Both are necessary. Without recognition, an image cannot mean anything. Without innovation, art becomes wall-paper. As a consequence, we are compelled to look at the way del Baldo has performed his task. Armed with a paint brush, his hand has made something else, something allo-, of the photograph, and thus the resulting portrait challenges the reliance on recognition. It depends on the viewer; but it is possible to contemplate these portraits stroke by stroke, looking at color nuance and juxtaposition, and feel the confusion, almost annoying, that recognition places in the way of such contemplation of the surface and texture of the paintings. The tension between the two, recognition and novelty, or better, between figuration and paint work, I have term “surface tension” in a study on Munch’s emphatic brushwork that counters the realistic, biographical clichés that viewers tend to bring to the art of this over-exposed artist.11

Let’s face it. Perhaps we should give up on, or at least relativize the distinction between portrait and self-portrait, between portraiture and other forms of painting, between autographic and allographic paint work, and abandon the genre label altogether. Like the identity of sitters when the portrayed person is famous, a genre label makes us jump to conclusions, and turns the recognition itself into a mask, hiding the art work. Between the face and the hand, the artist’s eye is more strongly influential for the resulting artwork as the face, and eye, of the sitter is for the recognition. A collaboration between sensations – the reassurance of recognition and the excitement of surprise – makes such distinctions futile, even untenable. Collaboration: as among colleagues, such as this merry bunch of art historians. Collaboration: not similitude, but a respect of differences. 

1 Ms in Munch Museum MM T 2547, quoted in Woll (1993: 33). For an extensive analysis of Munch’s practice of, especially, self-portraiture, see Jon-Ove Steihaug, “Edvard Munch’s Performative SelfPortraits”, 12-24 in Guleng, Mai Britt, Brigitte Sauge and Jon-Ove Steihaug, eds. Edvard Munch: 1863- 1944 Oslo: Munch Museet, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design / Milano: Skira Editore S.p.A. 2013, and my own study on Munch, Emma & Edvard Looking Sideways: Loneliness and the Cinematic. Oslo: Munch Museum / Brussels: Mercatorfonds; Yale University Press, 2017

2 A classical study on the portrait is Brilliant, Richard 1991 Portraiture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Attempts to move beyond that view can be found in Woodall, Joanna (ed.), Portraiture: Facing the Subject. Manchester, 1996: Manchester University Press. The term allo-portrait was first used by Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe1979 Portrait de l'artiste, en general Paris: Christian Bourgois (91) and developed more by Hirsch, Marianne 1997 Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press (ch. 3). 

3 Alphen, Ernst van 2005 “The Portrait’s Dispersal”, included in a volume of his essays, Art in Mind, How Contemporary Images Shape Thought. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (21-47). 

4 Liedtke, Walter, Carolyn Logan, Nadine M. Orenstein, and Stephanie S. Dickey, 1995 Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Aspects of Connoisseurship. Vol. II: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints: Art-Historical Perspectives. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art / Harry N. Abrams.

 5 In this sense, genre concepts are like those “metaphors we live by” theorized by Lakoff and Johnson in their book Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1980; 1999). On the mirror stage, see Jacques Lacan, “The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience.” In Ecrits: A Selection. Ed. and trans. Alan Sheridan, 1-7. New York: W.W. Norton (1977). 

6 Cat. Nr A 73. Tümpel is among the most eager de-attributionists of Rembrandt paintings, surpassing the Rembrandt Research Project in this respect.

 7 I have developed this view of facing on an article on a video installation based on it. See “In Your Face: Migratory Aesthetics.” In The Culture of Migration: Politics, Aesthetics and Histories, edited by Sten Pulz Moslund, Anne Ring Petersen and Moritz Schramm. London: I.B. Tauris, 2015, 147-170.

8 See Zwijnenberg, Robert (1999). The Writings and Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci - Order and Chaos in Early Modern Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

 9 For an in-depth discussion of the case of Douglass see chapter 2 in Ernst van Alphen, Failed Images: Photography and Its Counter-Practices, Amsterdam: Valiz 2018. 

10 Tzvetan Todorov, Goya à l’ombre des lumières. Paris: Flammarion, 2008. The self-portrait by Goya that lacks all narcissism, and I would add, comes closer to caricature than to self-portraiture, is the 1820 painting Self-Portrait with Arrieta, at the fine Arts Museum in Minneapolis.

11 I have developed this concept in order to foreground Munch’s radically innovative mode of painting, that tends to remain unseen or undervalued, due to an overdose of biographical information. See chapter 10 of my 2017 book Emma & Edvard Looking Sideways: Loneliness and the Cinematic. Oslo, the Munch Museum / Antwerp, Mercator Fonds / New Haven, Yale University Press.

Mieke Bal, 2018

(Copyrights by Mieke Bal. All rights reserved)


" A carefully-taken photograph serves up a kind of certifiable accuracy as the optical trace of someone’s presence. A painted portrait has another kind of truth - the truth of an act of looking that is translated by the artist into paint that endows the subject with the a felt presence beyond optical veracity. David Hockney said to me that ‘photography will never replace a painted portrait because it is not real enough”. By ‘real' he meant the direct act of communication between the living persons of the artist, the sitter and the viewer. Luca's portrait of me has that living sense, greeting visitors at thethreshold of my study with disconcerting vitality. I am present even if absent. "

(2018. Copyrights by Martin Kemp. All rights reserved)

Andreas  Beyer :

How do you recognize a world-famous scholar? Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897) 2 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 3 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 didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!”

Luca del Baldo’s admission to me that Rembrandt was a favorite artist of his – how could it be otherwise? – inspired me to write a piece on Rembrandt seen in Luca’s perspective, as a painter and draftsman of faces. That idea was in the back of my mind when I went to a screening of Billy Wilder’s film Sunset Boulevard (1950), and the subject took on another twist. As often as I heard the line before, it now meant that much more to me when I heard Gloria Swanson complain to William Holden about the needless introduction of sound into movies, “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!” What’s the difference, I thought, between Rembrandt’s faces, Gloria Swanson’s and Luca del Baldo’s? They all came into being when an artist contemplated and recorded the human face. What could be a more primal, irreducible act than that? The face of our mother is the first sight we see after birth; we are programmed to be acutely sensitive to the forms and expressions of faces. Surely the depiction of the face must be close to the degré zéro de l'imagerie.

I probably could have built an argument to that effect with some well-chosen examples. However, I decided instead to make use of someone else’s choices, namely those of Google Pictures. The results of this sampling revealed that the depiction of faces is subject to the same kind of artistic and cultural choices as everything else in art, mother bonding or not. On Google, I called up the faces of Gloria Swanson, other stars of the silent film, the talkies, Rembrandt and Luca del Baldo.

In all of these photos on and off screen, Gloria Swanson is projecting a persona. Some are movie roles, but even in the others, she is putting on a face. If there is a mode in which she is not acting, in which her face assumes an expression of its own, she has been able to keep it out of sight. Strangely, the expression of her film faces does not look any more forced than the snapshots. Great actress that she was, she lived her roles, endowing her characters with all the humanity in her. This possibility alerts us at once to the real existence of not a zero but a maximalist mode of facial depiction: the face as a living mask. (What will Hans Belting say about this in the book on “face and mask” he tells us in this volume he is writing?)

From a sample of silent-movie stars on another Google search, it would seem that Gloria Swanson was an extreme case. The off-screen photos of some others show them in what looks like a natural guise, while the role-playing is more visibly theatrical. Professionalism and personality are more clearly distinguished from each other.

To test Gloria Swanson’s proposition about the redundancy of sound, I brought up a page of movie stars’ faces from the talkie era ("movie stars of the 1930s"). It would seem like her point is well taken. These actors did need dialogue to get their characters and actions across. There appears moreover to be less of a distinction between the studio portraits and the stills from their parts. What they are conveying depended on text and context.

Looking at an assortment of Rembrandt portraits, self-portraits and “tronies” (face paintings), we find ourselves off the scale established by the movie stars. As different from each other as they are, as we would expect from an artist with Rembrandt’s inventivity, they share a common feature: self-contained dignity. This characteristic has been explored by Ann Jensen Adams in her book of 2011 Public faces and private identities in seventeenth-century Holland: portraiture and the production of community. Faces like these

display to the world an emotional calm and a certain degree of detachment. This state was internal and nonresponsive; nevertheless, it portrayed to the seventeenth-century viewer an attribute of personality as important and a specific as those employed by Rembrandt in his portraits of men in active poses. This neo-Stoic state of tranquillitas was achieved through control of the turbulent emotions.

I would go one step further than Adams and say that even Rembrandt’s portraits of men in active poses show them with unexpressive facial expressions. His sitters never smile, let alone laugh. There no teeth to be seen in Rembrandt portraits.

That is not entirely the case with Luca del Baldo’s portraits of members of his visionary academy. The photographs provided to Luca by the sitters are in general freer and more expressive than Rembrandt’s faces, close to those studio portraits of Katherine Hepburn and Rita Hayworth, Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable. (If only!) Pre-millennials like them, we are not worried, as Rembrandt’s sitters and he himself were, that it would diminish our dignity to crack a smile. This is not the same thing as expressing our emotions. In Luca’s renditions of our visages we seem actively to be emanating certain character traits, specifically friendliness and approachability. We are freer to present ourselves this way because our status as authorities and intellectuals is already established by being included in the academy.

Which brings me to Gloria Swanson’s conviction that words are not necessary to convey the meaning of an image. She was not alone, nor was the attitude she expresses limited to the movies alone. Walker Evans, at the end of the decade of Sunset Boulevard, in 1959, wrote in an introduction to a book of road-trip photographs by the Swiss-American photographer Robert Frank: “For the thousandth time, it must be said that pictures speak for themselves, wordlessly, visually, or they fail.”

Few art historians would agree with that statement, as many times as it might be said. Our first inclination would be to tell Walker Evans that words cannot be avoided in responses to art, that even when a text is lacking, there is always a context and a subtext, that a work of art is always entangled in more than one discourse, more than one narrative. That would also be my inclination.

But who of us does not understand what Evans means? Do works of visual art not enjoy more than one existence, in the purely optical realm as well as in the overcommentaried culture? And do we not walk past or skip over visually disappointing paintings and photos without stopping to ask what they might mean? To my eye, Luca del Baldo’s portraits pass that test with ease. They engage us on their own, as a gallery of portraits worthy of contemplation and rumination one by one and as a group. That the sitters then turn out to be people who have lavished words on works of art enriches the experience and rewards the viewer with unexpected possibilities to delve into their ideas and perhaps to seek links between the visages and the views of the members of Luca’s visionary academy, to which I am proud to belong.
(Copyright by Gary Schwartz, 2018)


A comfortable old shoe of a mug. An unremarkable face that you will not pick out of a crowd or hopefully a police line-up. Ordinary, well-aged and of course, largely inscrutable to me.

I had a friend - no, she was once blurted out. 'Do you know what your problem is?' 'Do not have a clue,' 'I chuckled, "" What? "Where the hell did this remark like "I was annoyed." "Ok, tell me how to be successful, Ms Freud." "In the first place, you need to have a person. Do you even know what that is? "

In truth, I did not have a clue. But when she explained, I was flabbergasted. No, I guess I did not have a 'persona', although it was clear that she did. The instant that this tough, a transfiguring solemnity. It was both a projection of her profound seriousness about her work and a way of reassuring patients, mainly young women who carried images of analysts as gray-bearded father figures, that she had the mojo they needed. Also her skill at enacting this person enforced respect from the greybeards and obnoxious academics who were her colleagues. 'You were boucoup witchdoctor tonight,' I'd tell her after a lecture or meeting. 'Try it yourself,' she'd reply dryly. It was not an act.

Years later, after innumerable failures, I published a notorious book on Los Angeles that gathered some attention. Amongst other things I have written about the police. After the 1992 eruption, the New Yorker called me to be a few days to take Richard Avedon to the parts of LA that were invisible from Mulholland Drive. Ronald Reagan, but was also hoping to meet some of the activists in Southcentral L.A. He turned out to be fearless, charming and disarmingly kind. They agreed to a group photograph.

Reagan had been photographed earlier in the day. I was very nervous about how I would frame this group of men, the protagonists of a gang truce that was close to being a social miracle. Hyperbolic and exploitative stereotype on numerous books and CD covers; the Original Gangster (OG) with tatooed bicepts like sequoia trunks holding an Uzi. Avedon might be a world-famous master, but would not be the same temptation?

My anxiety was unncessary. Mathew Brady-era carefully focused camera box. It resembled Rodin's 'Burghers of Calais.' With dignity of community leaders in a time of great danger. The photo is part of his unpublished legacy, but will someday, I believe, be regarded as an icon of hopes arising from ruins.

As a portraitist Luca del Baldo faces a more difficult challenge than Avedon did. The Fellowships of the Cultivation of the Cultivation of the Cultivation of the Cultivation of the Cultivation of the Cultivation of the Cultivation of the Sons. Luca works from a found object - in my case a literally random photo, the only recent one I could locate. Then by some mysterious process that I assume includes some familiarity with the subject's writing and probably a hypothesis or two about their character, he gives back to them their enigma, partly intepreted perhaps, but also overlaid with new questions.

In my case, the question of persona remains, in the dual sense of performed self and earned character, but I won't venture an opinion because I'm obnoxious when I think about myself.  Moreover, I've been battling cancer for two years and understand that what will abide is the love that I have planted in my children's hearts and hopefully the encouragement that I've given to  young people to fight capitalism for the sake of human survival.  Still wouldn't we all like to become one of those old photographs at a rummage sale that someone picks from the pile and says 'Hm, wonder what this cat was like?'

MIKE  DAVIS, 2018 (Copyrights by Mike Davis. All rights reserved)


Notes sur un portrait

Comment faut-il entendre le projet d’une «visionary academy of ocular

mentality»? Seul Luca del Baldo peut nous rendre compte des termes qu’il

a choisis. Tout au plus pouvons-nous formuler notre propre vision du

problème que sa peinture entend résoudre en prenant la pensée dans le

rapport ainsi déclaré entre l’oculaire et le visionnaire. Le visionnaire

bien sûr implique toujours quelque excès sur l’oculaire. Mais l’excès

n’est-il pas présent déjà dans le souhait de peindre des penseurs en

tant que penseurs? Cette entreprise porte à l’extrême le paradoxe

habituel du portrait, ce paradoxe auquel nous ont confrontés tant de

fois ces figures qui peuplent les salles des grands musées: des

portraits jadis destinés à identifier des notabilités diverses :

condottieri ou bourgmestres, magistrats, savants, nobles amateurs d’art

ou riches marchands dont nous ne savons plus qui ils étaient sinon par

la notice jointe, dont parfois des objets emblématiques disposés sur la

toile – un insigne sur le costume, une arme au côté, une statuette

caressée, un livre tenu dans les mains, une carte ou un manuscrit

déroulé sur une table - nous rappellent le statut social ou la passion

propre mais dont il y a en tout cas une chose que nous ignorons

totalement, à savoir ce qu’ils pouvaient bien avoir en tête quand ils

posaient pour le peintre. C’est d’ailleurs ce qui nous les rend précieux

: que ces visages qui devaient signifier à ceux qui les regardaient

telle ou telle identité et qualité spécifiques ne soient plus que des

figures anonymes au secret soigneusement dérobé par des yeux dont

l’énergie concentrée ne désigne plus aucune fin définissable ni l’air

rêveur aucune pensée identifiable. Le portrait dit l’identité (quel

visage correspondait à ce nom ou qui est représenté par ce visage) et la

soustrait en même temps : il ne dit pas quel est ce qui, sauf à

exagérer les traits qui doivent le signifier. Le philosophe Descartes ne

livre rien de sa pensée au plus talentueux des portraitistes de son

temps. D’autres peintres , bien sûr, s’en vengent en nous faisant

reconnaître Démocrite à son rire ou Héraclite à son air mélancolique,

assurés que nul jamais ne viendra objecter que ce n’est pas à cela que

ces philosophes ressemblaient.

Que l’identité soit ainsi dérobée sur le visage qui l’expose, c’est sans doute ce que reconnaissent ces

portraitistes d’aujourd’hui qui, au lieu de se vanter de saisir, dans le

temps figé de la pose, l’expression révélatrice d’une intériorité

cachée, ont choisi de travailler d’après photographie. Il est vrai que

le photographe, surtout s’il travaille pour un journal, peut s’être

amusé lui-même à saisir la combinaison de sérénité démocritéenne et

d’orage héraclitien identifiant le travail de la pensée sur le visage du

penseur. La première photographie choisie par Luca del Baldo était

tirée d’un magazine culturel brésilien qui présentait à ses lecteurs « o

pensador francês Jacques Rancière »: tête massive , regard très

enfoncé, pose majestueuse. A partir de là, les empâtements par lesquels

Luca del Baldo veut rendre une peau à l’image photographique, en

accentuant le jeu des ombres et des lumières sur les traits du visage,

devenaient les tourments de la pensée travaillant la chair du

philosophe. J’ai dû dire au peintre que c’était peut-être un portrait de

la pensée mais non pas le mien. J’ai proposé alors une autre

photographie, prise non par un photographe mais par un philosophe, non

pour avoir une image de la pensée mais pour garder un souvenir personnel

d’un événement auquel il m’avait invité. La photo, de fait, est

introuvable sur la galerie proposée par Internet. Ce qu’elle peut avoir

de pictural tient non à ce qui s’y exprime de pensée mais au fait que le

regard y est pris dans le partage de la lumière qui répartit exactement

une partie du visage dans la lumière et l’autre dans une demi-ombre. A

partir de cette image Luca del Baldo a entrepris un travail pictural

dont il m’a envoyé deux versions : une étape intermédiaire et une

version finale. Tout se passe, sur la première, comme si la couleur

avait viré : l’atmosphère bleutée de la photographie a cédé la place à

une dominante jaune-vert qui , bien que le peintre respecte la

répartition des lumières et des ombres, semble extraire le visage de la

pénombre pour le fixer en pleine clarté, comme s’il voulait d’abord,

pour lui-même , savoir à quoi je ressemble , quelle que soit l’heure du

jour et l’éclairage du lieu. Après quoi, il a rendu le visage au bleu

d’où il l’avait extrait. Ou plutôt il a inventé une texture colorée qui

circule entre le centre du regard et le fond du tableau en passant par

les nuances bleutées données aux reflets et aux ombres sur le visage. On

pourra alors aussi bien voir le tableau comme l’expansion de la

puissance d’un regard ou ce regard comme la concentration ponctuelle du

milieu sensible où il est immergé. On pourra même, si l’on veut, faire

de cette réversibilité entre un regard et un univers sensible une image

de la pensée à l’œuvre, enquêtant sur son monde et en concentrant la

puissance- un double mouvement qui, dans mon lexique, pourrait se

résumer dans le mot d’attention. Mais cette image de la pensée pourra

être semblable à celle d’un individu, en l’occurrence semblable à mon

image, sans que les deux se confondent dans l’image du penseur.  

Ce que je dis là bien sûr est pure imagination à partir de deux images. Je

ne sais pas en fait ce que Luca del Baldo a voulu faire ni par quels

moyens il y est parvenu. Le tableau lui-même, je ne l’ai pas vu et ne le

verrai peut-être jamais. J’en imagine la texture d’après deux

photographies numériques que le peintre m’a envoyées du travail pictural

qu’il a opéré à partir de la photographie numérique que je lui avais

adressée. Cette distance vient s’ajouter aux écarts qui composent la

dialectique du portrait. C’est comme un tour de plus dans le jeu mouvant

des rapports entre identité, pensée, image et matière.

(Copyrights by Jacques Rancière. All rights reserved)


When I look at Luca del Baldo’s portrait, I see a familiar face with a wry smile, not entirely joyful, but still able to look at the world in a positive manner. And that’s me.

Why am I not joyful? Well, the state of the world is not one we can regard with unrestrained joy. According to the World Bank, approximately 700 million people are living in extreme poverty. And each year nearly 6 million children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Most of these deaths are preventable. Those of us living comfortable lives in affluent countries have the means to prevent them, by donating just a small fraction of our incomes to effective organizations working to reduce poverty. We can find the most effective organizations on websites like www.thelifeyoucansave.org. Yet few of us do it. Nothing to be too cheerful about here.

Then there is the way we ruthlessly exploit animals, which is something I have been concerned about since 1970, when I first learned that the animals I was eating are often confined indoors for their entire lives, in miserable, crowded, unhealthy conditions. I stopped eating them and started writing Animal Liberation, arguing that we are guilty of speciesism, a prejudice against taking seriously the interests of members of other species. Now we have also discovered that meat is a major contributor to climate change, another important reason for a plant-based diet.

What, then, is there to smile about? First, the number of people in extreme poverty and the number of children dying are both steadily declining. A decade ago, when I was writing my book The Life You Can Save, the number of people in extreme poverty was over a billion, and the number of children dying before their fifth birthday was nearly 10 million. Other indicators of poverty, such as the percentage of people completing at least primary education, or having sanitation, are also heading in the right direction.

For animals, the global picture is much more gloomy, largely because of the increase in meat consumption in China and other parts of Asia. That’s due to increasing prosperity, which is a good thing for humans, but its dietary consequences are a disaster for animals and for the planet. Still, I try to focus on the positives, especially the boom in vegan eating, and the progress being made in developing new plant-based foods and even “cultured meat” – real meat, produced from cells in vitro, not from a sentient animal, and without releasing methane into the atmosphere.

The emergence of the Effective Altruism movement has also given me something to feel good about. As I have described in The Most Good You Can Do, many people, especially of the generation that has come of age in the new millennium, are making their lives more fulfilling by trying to make the world a better place. Moreover, in contrast to older-style giving to charity, which is often based on emotional appeal without any real knowledge of what does the most good, effective altruists use their head as well as their heart. They are gathering evidence about how they can get the best value for their money, or their time, and thus do the most they can to make the world a better place. They are living proof that our human nature does not condemn us to be thoughtless and selfish consumers, thinking only of ourselves and never caring about strangers. Surely that is worth a little smile.

Peter Singer, 2018

(Copyrights by Peter  SINGER.All rights reserved. 2018)


The tangled scales of embodied times are much on my mind these days. Last summer my husband Rusten, myself, and our dog Cayenne walked in the fossil beds at John Day National Monument in the Painted Hills of eastern Oregon, where 60 million years of mammalian evolution, in folded and gapped layer after layer, open up like rocky flowers on sere, denuded hillsides streaked in mineral reds and purples. Dog-family fossils and residues of flowering plants—and, in the more recent layers 10 million years ago or so, grasses—are especially rich and diverse in these Painted Hills. Cayenne, an aging athletic dog, newly diagnosed with early signs of heart disease; Donna, a 66-year-old woman scholar, this dog’s avid sports partner for more than 10 years, newly retired from her academic department; and Rusten, a loving agile man also in his 60s all slowed down to walk in three-part resonance with newly syncopated heart rhythms on a landscape of vanished tropical forests, savannahs, volcanic ash, and the organic beings recorded in slick, oily, rocky traces. To me, these traces suggested painted narrative portraits that seemed both expansive and compressed, full of living and full of dying, momentary and enduring all at once, frozen in rock and open to what was not yet in time, flesh, and space. 

I experience Luca del Baldo’s oil painting of me in similar ways, but the portrait feels more lonely than the storied rocks and busy pathways in the Painted Hills. The layered and ongoing species assemblages are harder to discern, but they are there, in presences and absences. I am drawn by the woman in the painting; she seems thoughtful, and she meets my gaze in an invitation to think with each other, and maybe to walk with each other in entangled, biodiverse times of layered and gapped living and dying. The woman in that painting based on a photo taken in 2005 would have been with Cayenne in her office, writing essays that became a record of companionship called When Species Meet. Like all the bumptious world, Cayenne is just beyond the frame of the photo and painting. The reds, blues, grays, and blacks of Luca del Baldo’s paint capture both the hot and subtle colors of the walk in the Painted Hills, where volcanic rocks, faulty hearts, vanished and present dogs, fossil grasses, that one July day’s wildflowers, and human spouses knotted together in the ontological cat’s cradle of ordinary “becoming with.” The portrait of one person, of me, in colored entangled temporal relays of digital media and paint, is an imprint of a fragment, a face, embedded in layers of pigment. Time both compresses and opens up in the face of such fragments. That painted woman is no more me than the fossil dogs of different families and genera are Cayenne or any contemporary dog. But we all—painted, sedimented, thinking, and walking—compose together the pigment-brushed traces in the hills of terran landscapes that are still at stake.

(copyright by Donna Haraway. All rights reserved)



Étrange sensation: il m'est arrivé, comme à tout le monde, de me reconnaître sur une photo, mais jamais je ne m'étais surpris à me sentir l'objet de mon propre regard.

Ici aucun moyen de lui échapper. Non qu'il soit particulièrement vif ou inquisiteur: il ne me cherche pas, mais, face à lui, je sais qu'il m'a trouvé. Il faut dire que dans le portrait de Luca del Baldo il n'y en a que pour lui. Le peintre a pris pour modèle une photographie publiée dans dans un blog de recherches anthropologiques, et il y a ajouté de la matière: la peau du visage est moins lisse, plus colorée, plus chargée de plis et de taches. On pourrait être tenté de dire qu'il m'a vieilli. Mais je crois surtout qu'il a voulu mettre en évidence le regard de celui dont il étudiait la photographie, moi en l'occurrence. Comment peint-on un regard?

Je ne sais, mais le résultat, pour moi, est troublant. À mi-hauteur de la toile, les yeux accaparent l'attention. Ils se situent entre l'espace clair du fond de tableau, sur lequel s'inscrit, avec le blanc de la chevelure, la pâleur du front dégagé, et sa partie basse, aux couleurs plus marquées: menton mal rasé, bleu de la chemise, noir du bracelet - montre en cuir. Ils ne reflètent a priori qu'une pensée vague, vaguement contemplative, mais ils expriment un état d'âme ou d'esprit qui devait être le mien quand la photographie a été prise; je me trouve soudain au centre du tableau et d'une énigme dont je suis le seul à pouvoir éclairer les termes. Le regard, on serait tenté de dire qu'il est intérieur, intime, réflexif, mais c'est moi qui le regarde !

J'ai les yeux verts, mais, si j'y regarde de plus près, cette impression se décompose; il y a un peu de bleu, dans ce vert-là, et quelques reflets d'un marron doré. En outre une source lumineuse inconnue allume quelques flammèches à l'ombre des paupières. Au total, j'ai l'air très sérieux., un peu fatigué peut--être; la main qui soutient le menton accréditerait cette hypothèse, même si l'on ne voit pas la pointe du coude qui étaye l'ensemble. Dira-t-on qu'influencé par l'air du temps, je suis sinon inquiet de notre situation globale, au moins préoccupé par certains de ses aspects?

Honnêtement, je n'ai pas le souvenir du moment où la photo fut prise et je ne suis pas certain, en outre, que mon regard ait eu la même expression sur la photo originelle que sur le tableau de Luca del Baldo. Et pourtant il s'agit bien de mon regard. Le peintre a su capter quelque chose que la photo ne révélait pas. Je me fixe dans les yeux et, au bout d'un moment, je comprends: la vie passe vite, mais le temps ralentit parfois; nous nous arrêtons pour la regarder passer avec un peu de nostalgie apparente mais aussi le sentiment que tout est dans l'ordre des choses, et s'ébauche alors, du haut des yeux jusqu'aux confins des lèvres, l'esquisse d'un sourire.

Marc Augé, 2018

(Copyrights by Marc Augé. All rights reserved)


I’ll admit that I was perturbed when Luca Del Baldo offered to send me the painting he had made from an image of me that he had found on the Internet. You see, I don’t like looking at images of myself. I felt it would be ungrateful to the point of rudeness to turn down such a generous offer, but I felt sure that I didn’t want to hang the painting –that I wouldn’t want to have to look it. So my acceptance of Luca’s offer was made with a certain guilty conscience: It seemed that the least distasteful course of action would be to take the painting, offer Luca some words of thanks, and then to quietly stash it in the back of a closet, like some aunt’s birthday present of an oddly patterned sweater.
Why is it that I don’t like seeing my own image? I don’t know. I don’t mind seeing my reflection in the mirror, for instance. No problems there. While it’s apparent that the fellow who looks back at me as I’m shaving is no Cary Grant—the epitome of cinematic masculinity, don’t you agree?—there’s nothing at all unpleasant about him. And above all, he strikes me as a person who’s comfortable with himself. But when I see myself in a photograph, it’s very different. This guy just looks goofy. There’s no taking him seriously. Or if so, then I can take him seriously only in a mode of suspiciousness. He looks to me like he’s hiding something, above all from himself.

I can’t explain this disparity between the reflection and the image. Maybe it has something to do with the mirror’s reversal of left and right giving me a different perspective on the same face? Could be, but I doubt it. Or might it be that in looking at the reflection in the mirror, I take in the whole gestalt of the face at once, whereas when I look at the photograph I somehow see details before the whole—and for some reason I can’t fit the details together in the way I’d like? That sounds more plausible, but I’m still not quite convinced it’s the real explanation.

In any case, therefore, it was with a certain wariness that I began to open the package containing my painting on its arrival in New York. I wasn’t really looking forward to beholding the parcel’s contents. But what was it that Clement Greenberg said? Ah, yes: “Whereas one tends to see what is in an Old Master before one sees the picture itself, one sees a Modernist picture as a picture first. This is, of course, the best way of seeing any kind of picture, Old Master or Modernist, but Modernism imposes it as the only and necessary way.” Well, what I saw when I the painting emerged from the packing materials was not what was in the picture; it was (what I call) the painting (which is the same as what Greenberg called “the picture”)—or rather, not the painting, but simply, painting. In other words, a complex of painterly actions, a beautiful interweaving of colored marks that somehow add up to several things—an image of me, yes, but also an image of the low-resolution jpeg that Luca used as a source: One of the most fascinating things about the painting being precisely the subtle, almost intangible way the painter has evoked (without directly representing) the pixelized blur that occurs along certain edges within the image. So this is at once a painting of a person, a painting of a digital image of a person, and a painting, full stop.

I don’t know if seeing the painting first is really always “the best way of seeing any kind of picture,” but it is a way of seeing that I like. And now moreover this way of seeing has reconciled me to seeing my own image, for contrary to my expectation, I have hung this painting on a wall in my home and I look at it every day with pleasure. I don’t mind looking at this image of myself because I can see it as a painting first—a very good painting, at that—and only then, by the by, as me. The painting has taken the sting out of the image. And I even fancy that because of this, it is becoming a little easier for me to look at other images of myself. The painting has restored to me a certain equanimity with respect to my appearance. And the friends who stop by to visit invariably admire the painting, first as a painting and then as a painting of their friend, myself; their admiration reinforces my conceit in my good taste and ameliorates my anxiety as to my looks. Other paintings have given me pleasure, but this one has also, you might say, made me a little happier—more like the guy I see in the mirror.

(Copyrights by Barry Schwabsky. All rights reserved)

Portrait of My Portrait


first saw a painting by Luca Del Baldo in the apartment of Barry

Schwabsky and Carol Szymanski. They had recently moved back to New York from London where they had lived for many years. It was on the wall

opposite of where I was seated for dinner. I think there six or seven of

us seated around a long table that night. There was lots of wine,

delicious food, and high-spirited conversation. All through dinner, I

found myself gazing at the painting, intrigued. It was a portrait of

Barry, but it wasn’t by anybody I knew.  Unlike most portraits, the

painting showed Barry in profile, and though it was just the side of his

head, it seemed that the artist had captured him on his way somewhere,

in determined concentration. 

Shortly after the other guests had left, I asked Barry about the painting and learned about Luca del Baldo

and his project of paintings from photographs of people he respects but

hasn’t met. The title of the project is The Visionary Academy of Ocular

Mentality. You could say that Luca Del Baldo is the academy’s official

portraitist. If he paints your portrait, then you have become a member.

The title, I would later learn, came from Arthur C. Danto, whose

portrait Luca had painted.

Barry, who seems to know everybody,including many people that he has never met, suggested that I write to

Luca via email. I think that is how we began. Of course, my memory of

this event may be incorrect, but that seems to me to be what Luca’s

project is also about. When Luca asked me if he could do my portrait, I

hesitated. What photograph of me did I want to send him? I eventually

sent a number of photographs. I chose ones that I neither liked nor

disliked – mostly ones where I wasn’t looking at the camera. I picked

photographs where my face nearly filled the photograph’s rectangle. I

kept looking for some unexpected image of myself – and I don’t have that

many photographs on hand.  I don’t know exactly what I was looking for –

I just knew what I didn’t want, a conventional pose, which is what

first drew me to Barry’s portrait. I also knew that I didn’t want to

have a view of me in profile, out of respect for Barry and the

photograph that he sent to Luca. During our email exchange, I found out

that Luca liked the writings of J.G. Ballard. This convinced me that

everything would work out. 

So what do I see when I look at the painting. My hair is white. My brow is furrowed. I look to be in pain,

or annoyed, maybe both. I know the photographs were taken in the fall of

2013, and Luca began working on the portrait at the beginning of 2014.

In September 2014, after getting what I thought was a routine MRI, and

was about to go teach, the doctor told that me that I had to go to the

Emergency Room immediately. An aide helped me into a wheelchair and

pushed me six blocks to the Emergency Room of the NYU Langone Hospital.

After lots more testing, and admission as a patient, I learned that I

had to get the first three cervical vertebrae – C 1, 2 and 3 – in my

neck fused. They were pressing against my spine and the doctor was

amazed that I was still walking. A few months later, after having

recovered from this operation, I had my right knee replaced on February

27. Three months to the day, on May 27, I had my left knee replaced. 

When the photographs were taken, I was in constant pain and it had become

increasingly difficult to walk. I wore braces on both legs and needed a

cane.  All that discomfort is simmering in the portrait that Luca Del

Baldo was kind enough to send me. 

Whenever I look at the painting, it looks back at me across a divide of time marked by consultations, operations, X-rays, procedures, constant testing, lying on a gurney in different hallways on different floors waiting to be examined, sitting in a wheelchair, using a walker, learning to climbstairs, visiting home nurses, and physical therapy. 

I can scrutinize the man’s face in the painting, but he is looking elsewhere,

and that is the way I wanted it, though I didn’t realize it at the time,

not having any idea of what lay ahead. Sometimes I think I know what

he’s thinking, but then I realize I don’t. I see a person I once

resembled but don’t really know, at least in this version of him. 

That’s one reason why I haven’t stopped looking at it."

JOHN YAU, 2016
(copyright by John Yau, 2016)

Corpus Ernesti

Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, the Argentinian known as Che, is the subject of one the most globally reconisable of iconic images. Deriving from an initially unconsidered photograph by Alberto Korda taken in 1960 in post-revolutionary Havana, it is most familiar through the “posterized” version by Jim Fitzpatrick, the Irish artist and designer. A major factor in its enduring potency is its resonance with spiritual images of saints or even of Christ himself. Over the years it has featured in many contexts in which any semblance of its political origins has been entirely lost, as when it adorns the bum of a sexy bikini. 

The striking photograph of the dead Che taken by Freddy Alborta seven years after Korda’s portrait is less widely known but has achieved a minor iconic status in its own right. To understand its origins, it is helpful to know something about Che’s post-Cuba life, brief though it was.

After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, under Fidel Castro’s leadership, Che decided not to remain in Havana. He seems to have been uncomfortable in positions of high authority. In 1965 he effectively disappeared. It transpired that he went to Zaire to foster a Cuban-style regime in the horribly confused and unstable political landscape that prevailed in the years after the Belgian Congo’s independence (1960). The following year found him in Bolivia to catalyse a revolution that he hoped would precipitate similar moves across the whole of Latin America. Che’s Bolivian adventure ended after less than a year, with his messy death in the jungle. The manner of his execution, shot by a Bolivian soldier while wounded and in squalid captivity was far from glamorous or even heroic. However, the way that the Bolivians chose to display his corpse and document it proved to act in precisely the opposite way to what they had intended. Richard Gott, journalist for The Guardian, recounts powerfully what he saw on 9 October 1967.

When they carried the body out, and propped it up on a makeshift table in the hut that served as a laundry in less troubled times, I knew for certain that
Guevara was dead.

The shape of the beard, the design of the face, and the rich flowing hair were unmistakable. He was wearing olive-green battledress and a jacket with a
zippered front. On his feet were faded green socks and a pair of homemade moccasins . . .

The two doctors from the hospital were probing the wounds in his neck and my first reaction was to assume that they were searching for the bullet, but in fact they were preparing to put in the tube that would conduct the formalin into his body to preserve it. One of the doctors began cleaning Che’s hands, which were covered with blood. But otherwise there was nothing repellent about the body. He looked astonishingly alive. His eyes were open and bright, and when they took his arm out of his jacket, they did so without difficulty . . .

The humans round the body were more repellent than the dead: a nun who could not help smiling and sometimes laughed aloud; officers who came with their expensive cameras to record the scene; and the agent from the CIA who seemed to be in charge of the operation and looked furious whenever anyone pointed a camera in his direction.

Alborta’s photograph taken te next day shows Che on a crude stretcher laid out across two washtubs. With his raised head and open eyes, as described by Gott, he hardly seems dead. The semi-naked corpse displayed and viewed in such a way can hardly avoid comparisons with the corpus Christi, the body of the crucified Christ. We may think of the Dead Christ by Mantegna, in which the corpus is presented on the stone of unction in dramatic close-up. For good measure the officer in the photograph who is pointing to one of the fatal bullet holes thrusts his hand towards Che’s side like a doubting Thomas confirming Christ’s lance wound.

Alborta’s image, with its religious echoes, provides the springing-off point for Luca del Baldo’s notable series of painterly paintings of Che in death. The artist seizes upon that uncanny moment suspended between life and death, in which the deceased person seems to exists in a sate of paralysed awareness at the imminent departure (or death) of their soul. The most elaborate of his paintings emphatically sets Che on the unsympathetic washtubs visible in Alborta’s photograph. The space is no longer that of the disused laundry hut but a specially designed “death chamber” in which the walls bear panels of monkeys, replacing Alborta’s ghoulish spectators, and an image of Stephen Hawking, his body tortured by motor neuron disease. The spectator is invited to meditate on the new setting for Che’s corpse. The theme of time is strikingly evoked - the evolutionary time of Darwinian primates and the cosmic dimension of Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. The suggestive eloquence of the brushstrokes draws us into the imaginative world of the artist in a way the documentary surface of the photograph cannot. In the other paintings our viewpoint and field of view are changed, to bring other visual resonances of ancient and modern martyrdoms into play. The artist’s stark images are at once rooted in1967 and exist in the timeless tradition of the presentation of the human body in a state of of new death.

This essay is drawn in part from Martin Kemp, Christ to Coke. How Image Becomes Icon, Oxford University Press, 2012.
(Copyrights by Martin Kemp. All rights reserved)


An additional element

Why does one begin to speak, to write, to philosophy? The most plausible answer: To escape one’s own image, to avoid to be judged according to how one does look like, to transcend the design that is imposed on one by God or nature. Not accidentally the writers when they are asked about their identity, about who and what they are usually say: please, read my books. But that is precisely what contemporary mankind does not like to do. The contemporary media operate primarily by images – not by texts. We tend to identify the contemporary world with globalized media networks. Looking into these media networks is like looking into the mirror. One is identified there primarily by an image – a photograph or a video. Thus, one feels oneself as a never grown up Lacanian child discovering time and again its reflection in the mirror. Do we recognize ourselves in this reflection? We, actually, do not need to read Lacan to be able to say: no and yes. No – because we can compare our reflections in the mirror or in the media only with other similar reflections. We have no image of ourselves that would be unmediated – and thus the authentic act of selfrecognition could never take place. But at the same time we have no other choice as to accept the image that the world reflect on us as our own– and to say, yes, unfortunately, that must be me.

Here the painting enters the game. The painter – contrary to the camera – is supposed not only to see but also to “understand” us and somehow to integrate this understanding into the painted portrait. This equation: painting is a photograph plus psychological interpretation of the model - is, of course, a relatively new phenomenon. One can find this equation in a relatively short article by Siegfried Kracauer from 1927 entitled ™Die Photographie¥. As an example, Kracauer takes a photograph of his grandmother, that is, a private photograph, a photograph of sentimental value, and observes that this photograph does not bring back memories of his grandmother as it should, but blocks them. His grandmother as a person, as an individual, as an inner being is not disclosed, but instead only her outward appearance is visible, which, however, through the fashion of the times - that is, through clothes and make-up - seems impersonal and de-individualized. Kracauer writes: ™We are contained in - nothing and photography collects fragments around this nothing. When my grandmother stood in front of the lens, she was present for a second in the spatial continuum offering itself to the lens. Yet instead of my grandmother, this aspect is immortalized (...) not the person stands out in the photograph, but the sum of what is to be substracted from her. It destroys the person by portraying her, and if she were to coincide with it, she would not exist.¥ However, a painting can compensate this lack of personality that is reflected by photography. 

The additional element that painting adds to a photograph is nothing else as the essence of the depicted person – added to its purely phenomenal appearance in the world. 

The painter adds the essence to the phenomenon because the essence of a person is its subjectivity, psychology, spirituality – and they cannot be photographed but only understood and interpreted through a personal contact that should be developed in time. Krakauer’s text explain that very well: The photograph fixes only a moment in a person’s life but the true image of this person is a synthetic one. It forms itself through time, it is a sum of memories, impressions, events that are accumulated in the imagination of the painter. It helps when a painter chose his or her grandmother as a model because here the personal interpretation is inescapable. But the same can be said about all the painted portraits. The body exists in space, the soul exists in time. The photographer produces an image in a moment. The painter creates an image through a prolonged work taking time. That means: photography reflects the body, painting reflects the soul. 

Now Luca Del Baldo demonstrates how this equation functions in our time with a perfect clarity. He takes a photograph – and makes a painting out of it. He takes a moment – and adds the time. He takes a phenomenon - and adds the essence. But how he does it if he is not acquainted with the person he makes the portrait of and, accordingly, has no personal memories that would connect him to this person? Now, Luca Del Baldo does obviously take seriously the traditional writer’s claim that the soul is to be found in writing – notwithstanding the currently fashionable discourse about the death of the author. Thus, he makes a personal interpretation of his model on the ground of his reading of this model’s writings. However, can a writer recognize himself or herself in such a portrait?

But one is not one’ own grandmother. As I already said, one cannot recognize oneself at ll. One can only believe: that is me. And, well, one is always ready to  believe. But there is another aspect in the DelBaldo’s work that transcends the question of recognition/non-recognition. Writing is a very time consuming work. 

Thus, a writer is always a bit annoyed by contemporary art that manages to escape this time-consuming, manual work by operating with photography and readymades.

Contemporary art does not need the time-consuming working process– as writing still requires it. Today, the work of painting – especially, if the image is already there, already produced as a photograph – is a work of excess and generosity. So a writer is thankful to this generous gesture of an artist who rewards the same by the same – time by time, work by work.

(Copyright Boris Groys. All rights reserved)



Somewhere breath stops and the process of transformation begins: man against wall, a barrier to keep ageing bones upright, to halt that plunge into black nothingness. Digital seizures come cheap, without discrimination. Wipe or swipe as required. The interrogation of the painter is more considered, labour intensive, open to a braver register of failure. The painting of the treated photograph of the accidental self-impersonation of this man, the unsecured subject, opens a lengthy negotiation. What the painter actually achieves is a purer sense of the temporal: time lost, time smeared, time cancelled, time reprieved. The red of bricks, dug from a quarry and baked, becomes a chill blue, a vertical ocean of contemplation and solitude. Thin spectacles keep paint from tired eyes. The title of a film by Stan Brakhage - The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes - confirms the necessary limits of the project. ‘If you focus your own eyes sharply... you will notice irregularities in whatever kind of film strip you hold, in even the most so-called opaque or blank,’ Brakhage wrote. The subject of a portrait, never sitting for (or even meeting) the remote painter, is condemned to remain opaque, a simulacrum of life. He is a cartography of flaws. An autobiographical narrative of marks on canvas: erasures, improvements. It is possible in this way, unlanguaged or mute, to become fluent in the light of colour, translated to some remote place, a studio, a lake. London vanishes. The painter, at some point, decides that he has done enough. The subject tries to walk out, to return to the original wall, the same doorway. They have vanished, but his shadow is still there --- 

Iain Sinclair, 2016

(Copyright by Iain Sinclair. All rights reserved)


Portraiture as a Performative, Collaborative Art

Painting is typically not grouped with the performing arts, whose works have a temporal ontology of dynamic events rather than of static objects like canvases. But there is more to an art than the object which is its end product. There is artistry and aesthetic experience in the process of creating that work. Successful portraiture requires more than painting talent; it demands of the artist a certain skill or artistry of mis-en-scene in placing the subject in the right setting, posture, or light; it also demands a talent for rendering the subject psychologically at ease and open so that the painter can capture an expressive quality of the subject that is not marred by awkward embarrassment, anxiety, or resistance. As the process of painting can be rather long, the painter needs the talent to sustain the subject’s comfortable openness and continued interest for a considerable period. Of course, the subject sitting for the portrait should display correlative artistry in relaxed self-expression, composure, and interest. There is a dialogical relationship or focused interaction between painter and subject that can be an aesthetically rich experience in itself no matter the aesthetic quality of canvas that emerges from this collaborative process. Moreover, by means of this process over time, the painter can get a better knowledge of the subject’s personality or character that can be incorporated into the portrait, thus giving it greater depth.

I never had my portrait painted before, though it was occasionally proposed to me. Besides being reluctant to take the time, I thought that sitting would likely be an uncomfortably awkward experience for me. Not skilled in posing I felt very unconfident about achieving a natural look or even staying still long enough to satisfy a painter. Luca del Baldo’s method of portraiture solves this difficulty (and corresponding challenges for the painter) by disposing with the need for any extended sitting or indeed any real-space encounter with the subject. A photo snapshot does the job of sitting. 

But portrait photography, though unlike painting in demanding almost no time, presents similar challenges of capturing the subject in a way that is both natural and posed. Like Roland Barthes, I have trouble posing for a camera, not knowing which “look” to present and also not knowing how proprioceptively to achieve that look through my facial muscles, even if I could decide the look I wanted. The best snapshots of me are taken by women I like and trust. The snapshot Luca used was taken by my wife Erica one lazy summer weekend afternoon while I was lounging in bed, unshaven and wearing a t-shirt. An artist by training (principally sculpture), Erica is an indispensable, indisputable co-creator of this artwork. I wouldn’t have posed in that disheveled way for a stranger making my portrait, photographer or painter. If the mere mechanism of the camera captured my momentary image, it was her knowledge, her energy, our intimacy that shaped my expression and thus, in a sense, created the subject that Luca painted. 

Erica took only a moment to take the shot (though one might say she spent many years preparing me for it). Luca worked far longer in creating his painted portrait, pursuing a dialogical process of getting to know me by e-mail exchanges and by reading my texts, consulting with me about his progress with the portrait and even sharing with me some of its earlier stages. I had no advice to give, partly because I had no particular idea of what I wanted the painting to express, so I just tried to be encouraging. This was easy because Luca is a great painter. I do not know how Luca’s reading informed his vision of me. Nor could I say how my philosophy is expressed in the portrait. Each time I look at the portrait I see some other expressive quality. But this is surely apt for a philosopher with pluralist tendencies, keen to explore the varieties of experience.

Writing these lines in Beijing by working from a digital image, I have not yet seen the physical portrait, which Luca sent from Italy and Erica received at our home in Florida. The two artists in their different genres who fixed and reworked the fleeting image thus also complete the collaborative journey of the work, while the subject remains absent, on the way, incomplete, and in motion. That too is an apt image.

(Copyright by Richard Shusterman. All rights reserved)


Living or Dead

As we look at one of Luca del Baldo’s portraits, just what is it we confront? Whatever else, we face a paradox. Del Baldo paints his people as though they are living or as though they are dead, but he paints from neither the living nor the dead person, rather from the chemical embalmment of a photograph. 

Photography returns at the other end of the process. Most people who come to know del Baldo’s work in some sense do so as the result of viewing a photographic illustration, whether translated into print or made available on the World Wide Web. Del Baldo’s work as painting is caught between photographs—“before” and “after” that work. It risks oblivion in the insubstantiality of electronic data.

There is nothing wrong with this. Painters have worked from photographs since soon after they first became available, and Western viewers have accommodated their peculiar range of pictorial effects as somehow normal, reliable, truthful, and inevitable. Painters, and those who seek to disseminate the work of painters, similarly have made photographs of paintings—despite technical challenges—since early in the existence of the medium. The information in a photograph is predictably unreliable when the viewer is aware of the character of the process: as when yellow hues are rendered as a dark tone prior to the introduction of isochromatic emulsions, for instance; or progressive enlargement reveals the regular grid of pixels constitutive of a digital image. 

Yet what is reliable about a painting? And what can a painting reliably convey that remains inaccessible to any preceding indexical registration (an originating photograph) or subsequent derivative (a photographic reproduction)? Is a painting produced unmediated, from direct observation, and not reproduced, whether photographically or by other means, substantively different from a painting embedded in a matrix of non-painting practices? Yes, it is; but even though received opinion may favor the appearance of directness and freedom from the supposed contamination of the photographic in any of its various forms (think of those who would protect the purity of Vermeer’s paintings from any taint of protophotographic interference) we might, instead, conceive of such a matrix as an enrichment rather than as a diminution of the artwork manifested in the aggregate of its various constitutive forms. 

This is not to say that a painting unmediated by photography, whether in the very formation of its image or in photographic translation after its making, is necessarily a thing inferior to a painting embedded in such a matrix; just that its matrix is less complex than that of its photographically entangled fellow. If, then, the artwork that includes the painting exists as a complex matrix of conception, preparatory photographs, sketches, memories, painting, variety of reproductions, and further memories, can any of these—and other constituents—be said to have an independent existence? Yes, but not independent of the artwork that they together constitute. 

Is this really so? If it were, any appreciative viewer of such an artwork would need to take into account each and every constituent—preparatory photographs, sketches, and every reproduction. This is not only a usually impossible feat, but unnecessary as these constituents are of kinds that differ among themselves. Reproductions are not only partial instantiations of the artwork they reproduce, but are tokens of its reproducibility. How they function in respect of these qualities varies from case to case, and can change over time, for the most part by incremental growth.

Furthermore, the matrix of an artwork that each of us can compile varies. This must be so if memories are among its constituents, for each of us has different memories, and the memories that each of us has lead each encounter with another constituent of the artwork matrix to be different and predictable only unreliably. Memory is the most volatile of the constituents of an artwork matrix. Memory, as well as reproduction and physical setting, provides the circumstances of encounter. Each time we view a work, the memories we bring to it differ.

If memory brings its own individual and peculiar ingredients to an artwork, so too does the painting, the thing on which the painter focuses attention in making most of the many thousands of decisions necessary in the conception and construction of what will be an artwork. As such, we might think of it as retaining a position of privilege, if only because of the acts of making that it instantiates. Yet that privilege does not disqualify the claims on our attention of other constituents of the artwork. 

Even the fact that each and every painting is a hand-made, often multi-layered, physically complex, three-dimensional thing does not necessarily make it paramount within the matrix in relation to other constituents. Its hand-madeness and physical complexity—allowing, even demanding inspection from many angles, each of which discloses a different aspect of its formation—certainly predisposes me to lend it privilege. But that would be a conceptual error. However, it would be equally erroneous to regard it—the painting itself—as incidental, for much that comprises the matrix of the artwork depends on the peculiar characteristics of that painting. It is, in many ways, determining, even if few people ever see it and rely on reproductions alone. Reproductions, after all, must have something to reproduce.

In championing the peculiarity—though not the singularity—of the painting within the context of the artwork matrix, I must admit to being at a disadvantage. Though astonished and impressed by all I have encountered in reproduction, I have seen but one painting by Luca del Baldo. That one painting—horrible to disclose—is a portrait of myself. 

This portrait is as nested in a partly photographically defined matrix as any other of his works. It began with the creation of an image not by the painter, but by my son. An adult son can discover his father’s insecurities like no one else, and, when a talented photographer, can make them clearly visible. Such a photographic portrait was the source from which del Baldo worked. I saw the progress of the painting in photographs he sent over the Internet. Yet nothing prepared me for the painting itself when I unpacked it. The laying on of paint is a temporally defined activity, taking many hours, often over many days, to produce a thing of such complexity as I saw revealed. That is how painting used to be. Few now seem to have the patience—touch upon touch, layer upon layer, setting aside the canvas for paint to dry before proceeding—that characterizes much truly attentive work. My delight in painting includes practices of many kinds, but I particularly admire work that results from artisanal values handed down from craftsperson to craftsperson, trained unforgivingly in rigorous skills such as were found in the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 

This is a deeply suspect taste among many contemporary artists and critics—rightly so—yet its traces are what I value in this painting by Luca del Baldo. It invites—compels, even—the eye to linger, to explore each articulation of space, flesh, and paint, as one alternates between grasping smears of paint and the image they constitute—the two-foldness of the painting (to use Richard Wollheim’s term)—a procedure available only to the viewer of the painting itself. 

Thanks to my son, I see no affability, no convenient contrivance on my part—no mask. Thanks to the painter, I see a painting, the culmination of selective, manual, and affective skill of a high degree. That painting is part of an artwork, which consists in a concatenation of photographic exposure, manual dexterity, concentrated thought, and reproduction, elaborated ever more by the workings of memory. This chain, this matrix, is Luca del Baldo’s achievement as both painter and artist, and behind each of his paintings of the living or of the dead lies the insistent existence of a human person. That is what we confront.

(Copyrights by Ivan Gaskell. All rights reserved)

On My Portrait

Posing for my portrait suggests I’m a somebody. The word “somebody” sticks in my mind from Robert Frost’s poem “The Death of the Hired Man,” where the indigent hired man, on his last legs, returns to the farm where he has worked over the years, choosing that place to die rather than the home of his brother who lives only thirteen miles away. “Why didn’t he go there?” the farmer asks his wife, wondering why the hired man chose their farm instead of his brother’s place. “His brother’s rich,/ A somebody - director in the bank.”

So if I am not to be a somebody, a big shot, I must pose in a way that forgets myself. Fortunately, this is not difficult, because for the photograph on which Luca Del Baldo based my portrait I make sure not to eat anything well beforehand. Not that this is a special day in my life - on most days I don’t eat lunch, precisely to keep me a little misty about what is going on around me, just a little more vivid and hallucinatory than I would be if I were satisfied and well-fed and looking round with a contented air. But on that day yes it is easy to slump into my pose and stare into space - to rest my paw-like hand on a book and my chin on my hand.

The dog in the background appears to take a good long look at me. Initially Luca Del Baldo and I had agreed that he would paint me with a detail from Tintoretto’s Finding of the Body of St. Mark, a painting at the Brera in Milan that we both admire. Tintoretto’s vast perspectival halls - with their tracery of agitated vaults and columns - would make the perfect architecture for my thoughts. You might even say that in my work presently I am employing great legions of mental workers to construct such edifices as the proper sites of my scholarship. The bigger and more spiritually grandiose and more irresponsibly unbelievable, the better. Picture the British P.O.W.’s busily constructing the span in David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai, and you will have some idea of the forced labor to which I subject my thoughts, hoping that they will build something of sufficient and perverse grandeur. But Tintoretto’s spinneret architecture - spun not just from his dyes and silks but from the spiders who spin the threads the fabrics are made of - is presently beyond me. And anyway Luca tells me that the word “Tintoretto” on the spine of the splendid white book does not read clearly in the photograph I send him. So we move on to Goya’s dog. And I do not complain.

The dog is stuck in its pit, looking up into the glow where God was. No one can rescue this animal there in the Quinta del Sordo, least of all the man who painted him. Even my presence does not affect his fundamental aloneness, which goes on unabated, as if the unexpected appearance of a human on the scene does not quell for a moment his endless yearning for the master he has lost, or who has lost him. I do not deserve the pedigree - the dog is of another breed than me - but yes he crumples my hand to the right degree and makes a good match for my despondency.

It is all an act, some will say. A performance of the self, as the phrase goes. And I am sure it is. Part of my weariness on this day or any day stems from exhaustively arguing otherwise - that life is not all poses, that poses are sometimes even the moments when life in some indefinable way most appears. But, yes, you could say that I give up. The big shot cannot escape his pose, his pomp, and his very circumspection and modesty accord all too well with the standard lexicon of the “head shot”, the important soul, the thinker who finally cannot resist becoming another clown in the endless chain of celebrities and pseudo-celebrities and others who imagine that they are somebody.

Only a person who keeps their nobody sacrosanct, who really does not need to try very hard to do so—who is only to be faulted for, in fact, not cultivating this nobody-ness enough - can escape a portrait unscathed. (And of course it also takes a painter who can recognize that this wayward element is the thing most to portray). “Wayward” means drifting... a person who is always drifting... who cannot find a fixed point... who consents to rest and be painted not as a stopping point, not as part of a pantheon of accredited heroes and heroines, hard-set in their achievements, but in the hope that the constant flight of himself from himself will be what the image most portrays. He will then be like the head on an ancient coin of obscure mintage, the functionary of a distant part of empire, given a value and tossed on purpose or accidentally into the dust... or the mineshaft... and left there to be discovered, or not, as the currency of another time than his own.

Alexander Nemerov
Palo Alto, California, 
July 11, 2016

(Copyrights by Alexander Nemerov)


Troppo vero

Velazquez painted a famous portrait of Pope Innocent X that hangs in the Galleria DoriaPamphlili in Rome. When the far from innocent looking Pope saw Velazquez’s painting, he reportedly said ‘troppo vero’, meaning both too true and too much truth. There is perhaps an excess of truth in good portraiture. What always fascinates me in gazing at the painted faces of others is a kind of silence and immobility in the face that seems to operate at two levels.

On the one hand, a portrait is an image in a world of images, a tiny, almost magical fetish in a phantasmagoria of commodified images that can be bought and sold. But, on the other hand, a portrait – if it arrests and obsesses us – is something more, something deeper and darker that seems both concealed and revealed by the painted surface.

When we look at a portrait, I think we look for something about ourselves in the image, some form of identification that draws us in. but an arresting portrait also lets us see through the face, the skin, the eyes towards something captivating and alien.

A portrait, then, has a double resonance: it is both identifying and alienating, showing the essential alienation that subtends the circulation of images.

At the most superficial level, a portrait is an image of a face that causes a sensation upon theretina which we may find pleasing or displeasing.

But, it is my conviction that there is the suggestion of something in portraiture that exceeds the sensible content of the image. There is the adumbration of an inaccessible interiority, a reality that resists simple commodification, an atmosphere, something like Orpheus looking over his shoulder as Eurydice slips back into Hades.

Of course, matters become a little more complex when it is a portrait of ‘oneself’. In thanking Luca for his beautiful portrait, I am inclined to follow Pope Innocent X and say, ‘too much truth’. I must confess that when I look at this portrait, I don’t know who that person is. When I look at ‘myself’ all I see are others staring back at me.

I see my mother’s slightly frightened, anxious but kind eyes, my father’s huge ears and a twist in my nose from where I was badly beaten up by three boys when I was 16 years old. And sweet baby Jesus, whatever happened to my hair. My dad had tons of hair. I think I went bald deliberately to get back at him. Or my mother.

I see that stupid black t-shirt that I bought from American Apparel for $20. When I look, I also think about the context for the image the portrait is based on: it’s an image capture from a series of video interviews I did with a website in Chelsea. The room was tiny and hot and I was sweating and being bombarded with questions I didn’t want to answer.

But, to tell the truth, I look at that face and those eyes and I feel scared - troppo vero, troppo vero. I want to avert my eyes. It is for other people to tell me what they see. I just see an idiotic me that I’d like to fle.

(Copyrights by Simon Critchley. All rights reserved)


The danger of a project to paint the faces of philosophers is that too much gets stuck on them as individuals. In general I think too much is made of the proper names of philosophers, and focusing on their faces risks doubling that problem. Concept get affixed to the names of philosophers as if they were their property. Philosophers know that treating thought and concept as private property – or even as the creation of individuals – misrecognizes the real process of thought and of the generation of concepts. Thought take place not in us but between us an through, and concepts are generated collectively across time. Sometimes it seems that concepts develop the way stones move across a landscape. One person picks up the stone and throws it, then another person happens upon it and throws it again; and then another, and finally the stone has moved all the way over the hill. But really thinking is much more interactive than that. You are always thinking with thoughts and concepts of others, even when alone in your room. Despite recognizing this, though, philosophers often feel great pressure to take ownership of their thought and even to battle over which concept belongs to whom.

I admire how strongly Claude Lévi-Strauss resists such pressure. He claims, in the introduction to “Mith and Meaning” this his work gets thought in him almost without his being aware. Each of us, he explains, is a kind of crossroads where thought happens. “I appear to myself as the place where something is going on,”he explains, “but there is no 'I', no 'me'.” Lévi-Strauss tries to erase his face and cancel his proper name from the field of ideas, and in so doing undermine any effort to affix thought and concepts to him as an individual. You might object that such statements are the result of structuralism pushed to the limit, as if throught arose from structures not humans. But that's not Lévi-Strauss' point. He insists instead that humans generate thought but individuals do not. You have never had a thought alone, but only in the (virtual or actual) presence of others.

My strategy in viewing Luca's project is thus not to regard each portrait as a face attached to a proper name but to see in the portrait a crossroads, a place where thought happens, coming from and going to other places unknown. And this strategy is aided by the choral effect of the portraits together. I see this as not a great conversation of geniuses across time but more anonymous, de-individualizing process of the patterns and movement of thought. Viewing the portraits in this way helps bring yhem closer to the way thought happens.

(copyright by Michael Hardt. All rights reserved)


Of Portraits and Time

The great neurologist Eric Kandel, commenting on his book on the

neuroscience of art, was recently quoted as saying: "portraits are never

objects simply perceived. They are more like a dangerous animal at a

distance – both perceived and felt.” Indeed, they may be dangerous in

different ways for painter, viewer and sitter. The last time I had my

portrait painted, I was 11 years old, and sitting for a portrait felt as

demanding as sitting through a piano lesson, where self-presentation

was equally important (“I'll overlook wrong notes or dirty fingernails,”

my teacher warned, “but not both!”). Inevitably, it brings out a

sitter's narcissism. At my age, however, as Michel Leiris once pointed

out, the danger of narcissism takes the form of a fascination with every

sign of encroaching decrepitude. That is one way that portraits are all

about time. (For me, perhaps this is because if I haven't given a

thought to time and death in the last day, I feel a slight pang of

guilt, as if I had been culpably oblivious of a lover.) But that is not

the only way portraits are about time. For the painter the danger is

that the instant captured is only a lifeless instant. The brain is

cunningly fashioned to interpret a two dimensional array as representing

three-dimensional space. Natural selection engineered that: but only

art, and never nature, can have trained us to apprehend a perfectly

still image as representing a life that exists in time. The best

portraits suggest not stillness but transition, between the previous and

the next unseen moment. By doing that, a good portrait also meets

another, more insidious challenge: in its stillness, a portrait aspires

to be the way someone looks: time in its fullness frozen in an istant,

in the sense captured by Mallarmé's famous line in his “Tombeau d'Edgar

Allan Poe”: Tel qu'en lui même enfin l'éternité le change. But no viewer

wants to see, frozen for eternity, merely an instant in a person's life

– and no sitter wants to be so limited. Despite the captivating

character of Nietzsche's thought experiment about Eternal Recurrence (or

Hirokazu Koreeda's After Life), it is not because of the tedium of

repetition that the prospect seems horrific – for recurrence, unlike

repetition, will be new every time. It is rather beacause the love of

life is the love of its ephemeral dynamism.

Luca meets all those challenges of temporality, by choosing an instant that is not an istant,

but the suggestion of a transition, of dynamic process. He has me about

to speak, while a the same time hesitating about what to say, or about

whether it is worth saying, or perhaps worrying whether my interlocutor

wants to hear it. In other words, by showing so vividly a moment of

transitional thought, he has conspired to let his subject escape time,

by fixing him in time, just so.

(copyrigts by Ronnie de Sousa. All rights reserved)



There’s an interaction between the portraitist and the subject, and one

of the most important parts of it is the choice of the photographs which

the subject sends to the portraitist. (Luca del Baldo has never seen me

in the flesh.)  I thought perhaps he would produce a brilliant

synthesis of these three images, three moments, three selves, three

delusions.   But no. Luca del Baldo did not produce a brilliant

synthesis of three images taken at different times and places.  (And of

different people?) Instead it seems he fell in love. He fell in love

with one of the images of me and chose it and coseted it and painted it

with a kind of happy devotion.

From among the handful of photos I sent him del Baldo selected one in

particular of which his portrait of me  is actually the portrait.  I

mean it is actually a portrait not of my body but of a photograph. The

photograph represents the self in several ways—not least that it was

chosen and sent by me deliberately to represent my self.

So the portrait represents an actual moment (when the camera clicked).

It was a sunny day. On the Accademia  bridge in Venice.   Jim Eliot (now

deceased) had arranged a memorial gathering for the recent death of

James Lee Byars.  James had died in the Anglo-American hospital in Cairo

several days before.  I was there to see him off.  Then the nightmare

of getting out of Cairo in the blazing heat--all flights to Venice

full--walking the broiling pavement--another day--all flights full--why

was Venice such a destination at that moment? Surely going to the Venice

Biennale had not become popular in Egypt?

Finally I took a plane to  Athens and from there a boat to Venice.

Then the sun of Venice, a cooler clime, the crowds of art lovers.  One

person noticed that it wasn't really the Biennale without Byars making

his greeting to the boats from St. Marks Plaza.  He lay in the sandy

ground of Egypt now. . .

So the moment when the camera clicked froze an echo of the moment of the

artist's death, an echo in the clinking of glasses by the canal . . .

Manipulation leads back to that moment -- or that other moment

superimposed on it -- or our desire and memory in our eyes -- away with

the voices in the air

(Copyrights by  Thomas McEvilley. 2011)


Facce e idee

Una ventina di anni fa, e anche più, c’era una rivista francese, “L’Arc”, che usciva con monografie su filosofi e letterati illustri. In copertina, la foto del soggetto del fascicolo. Uscirono Klossowski, Lacan, Foucault (se non ricordo male), e Derrida. Che però all’epoca non sopportava di essere fotografato, o almeno che venissero pubblicate delle sue fotografie. Era un problema, mi spiegò Derrida, perché l’editore era convinto che la foto facesse vendere di più, ma dopo una lunga negoziazione ebbe la meglio Derrida, e il fascicolo uscì con un’incisione che rappresentava un libro e una lucertola; il fascicolo, comunque, si vendette benissimo. Passarono alcuni anni (era il 1976), e Derrida (all’inizio degli anni Ottanta) venne arrestato a Praga con l’accusa di detenzione di stupefacenti, in realtà perché aveva tenuto dei seminari a sostegno di Charta ’77, l’associazione di dissidenti che chiedeva il rispetto del dettato costituzionale. La cosa fece scalpore, intervenne Mitterrand, e Derrida fu liberato e rinviato a Parigi. Il giorno dopo apparve la notizia sul “New York Times”, con una foto di Derrida, e da allora il segreto era rotto, e una valanga di foto di Derrida invasero il mondo, in libri, film, siti.

Sin qui la questione della iconofobia di un filosofo. Un caso di psicologia individuale. Ovviamente, però, si chiede di più anche al cronista di questo piccolo aneddoto, ed è legittimo farlo. Per esempio, di spiegare se poi Derida o qualche altro filosofo abbia una faccia che assomiglia alle sue idee, e la cosa non è ovvia. Le idee non hanno volto, non sono né grandi né piccole, né colorate o altro. Malgrado questo, non pare così peregrino pretendere di trovare una somiglianza tra le idee e la faccia del loro portatore. Nel senso che non appare così bizzarra (come in fondo dovrebbe esserlo) una frase come “Non assomiglia alle sue idee”, e si possono persino fare dei paragoni tra filosofi che sono più o meno somiglianti a quello che pensano. In effetti, Derrida assomiglia molto al suo pensiero, e questo lo si può dire di un bel po’ di altri filosofi: Nietzsche, Foucault (l’aria un po’ folle che rivela nella vecchissima edizione Rizzoli di Le parole e le cose), Wittgenstein, Rorty, sono molto somiglianti. Ma è chiaro che si può anche fare il gioco inverso, e sottolineare quante volte non accada. Lo aveva fatto Eco (un altro filosofo molto simile alle sue idee) in una bellissima bustina di Minerva di qualche anno fa, dove notava che Einstein assomiglia a un professore di liceo incline alla bottiglia. Volendo si può continuare. Franz Brentano non assomiglia affatto a un discendente di Aristotele, bensì a un mistico dipinto da Klimt, mentre Quine, in una foto giovanile contenuta nella sua autobiografia, pare un eroe western, e in una foto da vecchio ricorda vagamente Eisenhower. Ma è ovvio che qui ci si fa guidare da elementi esterni, non è la somiglianza con le idee, è solo che del primo sappiamo che è nato a Vienna, e del secondo ad Akron, Ohio.

Ma, al di là del catalogo, resta da chiedersi che cosa può significare “assomigliare alle proprie idee”, che si trasforma nell’assunto secondo cui il volto sia lo specchio dell’anima, e soprattutto gli occhi, in cui si manifesta (commentava in un passaggio un po’ gotico Hegel) la notte del mondo. Ci sono tante soluzioni a disposizione, che vanno dalla frenologia e fisionomica biasimate da Hegel all’idea di Kant secondo cui c’è una relazione tra le idee estetiche, che sono solo forma, e le idee della ragione, che non ne hanno alcuna. Non me la sento di prendere posizione in una questione così complicata, ma mi limito a una riflessione. Come ho ricordato un momento fa, può capitare abbastanza spesso che i filosofi assomiglino alle loro idee. Quasi mai, invece, i caratteri, e la stessa vita dei filosofi, assomigliano a quello che pensano, anzi, nella stragrande maggioranza dei casi ne sono l’antitesi. Se anche le facce seguissero questo destino antagonistico, la conclusione sarebbe semplice e banale: i filosofi sono degli ipocriti, predicano bene e razzolano male, o (non è affatto escluso, anzi, è attestato) predicano male e razzolano bene. Ma visto che le facce possono assomigliare alle idee, allora ne vien fuori una interpretazione un po’ meno lineare. I filosofi assomigliano a quello che pensano, e la loro faccia lo testimonia, con la paziente rassegnazione di un vegetale. Stessero anche sempre in casa, agirebbero anche in accordo con quel che pensano; solo che, all’uscita della caverna, incontrano qualcosa che gli fa cambiare idea.

(copyright by Maurizio Ferraris. All rights reserved)


I open this brief discussion that I take to be a remembrance of other lengthy discussions starting, say, July 13, 2012, and continuing through April 19, 2014. These discussions over this period of time led, as best as I can presume, to Luca Del Baldo's making—brush stroke by brush stroke, layer by layer—a painting, leading to other paintings; not other re-paintings, but other paintings. Of supposedly VjV, me, or some more of me. The various joyful versions of the paintings become, as best as I can see, accountable to One, Two, Three Spells U B E R T Y. As Tom Sebeok might count.

But how to get to uberty?

Gerhard Richter says: "When I paint from a photograph, conscious thinking is eliminated. I don't know what I am doing. My work is far closer to the Informal than to any kind of 'realism'. The photograph has an abstraction of its own, which is not easy to see through" (29).

Luca Del Baldo says: "I believe that Richter's thought is not entirely true, his work is primarily conceptual with no aesthetic pretensions. For me, the subject is inseparable from practice and research in painting, the formal solutions, new ways for each work. The zoom of a detail offers a kind of reality 'expanded' very interesting for freedom of expression. Hyper-realism takes advantage of this solution in the scrupulous technique and obsessive and boring description of an object (when, I think, the great art is synthesis), but for me the referent is always important in the vision and the meaning of artwork, I don't take the photograph only as a 'pattern' of signs or color effects to arrive at a decorativism end in itself. Then, the discourse on 'realism' is just a 'chimera.' There are several recordings, both mechanical and manual, and the reality remains elusive in its complexity" (in an email to VjV).

But what does it mean to be photographed? What does it mean to be painted? What, even more, or less, so, does it mean to be painted from a photograph?

I have no idea of my own! In practice or theory that matters. Hardly, does it mean: Losing our souls through the workings of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (Benjamin)! I don't think so!

After all has been read and unread to reread, I am still moving toward the varied works of Roland Barthes' Punctum (Camera Lucida) and his Obtuse Sense ("The Third [Sense]"), and John Water's Director's Cut, and Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills. After all, they in their own ways are having and making fun with their unorthodox approaches.

This adventure of remembrances began over a year ago when Luca and I started talking online. He, in Como, Italy; me, in Clemson, SC. Some where in between. Among the many topics, we discussed the differences between Italy and Sicily. Then, film, as made in Sicily. I favored Giuseppe Tornatore (The Star Maker); Luca favored Francesco Rosi and Vittorio De Seta's documentaries (Salvatore Giuliano). I spoke of my plans to shoot a film in Sicily (Etna) as well as in Turkey (Ephesus). And I shared my latest venture: namely, that I was establishing my own film production company: St. Vitus Pictures. Luca's response: "Ah! Ah! St. Vitus philosopher!!!!"

Additionally, we discussed the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee Switzerland, where I offer a seminar on Jean-François Lyotard in June each year, and where Jean-Luc Nancy and Sylvère Lotringer also offer seminars along with still others.

Finally, Luca asked for a photograph of me that he might paint from. I finally sent him a photograph to which he responded: "I like the 'Lyotard look,' above all for the earring and a bit religious posture of your head. I could paint from it."

In a month or so, the several versions of paintings became a final version. Hence, Luca sent the painting to me. After discussing the matter with my wife, it now hangs on the walk-way of our third floor, over-looking our second floor, which in the front of the house is our main entrance. When entering, visitors cannot but see the painting. If I open the door to greet them, they see me in the flesh. And then, see me. Many layered. Repeated several times.

I have spent various times inspecting the painting. Though it is the final version, there is no doubt that there are many Victors in the painting. Studying it, we think of Leonardo da Vinci, writing of the visual miracle know as pareidolia. Remember Hamlet: "Do you see that cloud up there that looks like a camel?" (act 3, scene 2). Well, Leonardo explains: "if you look at any wall spotted with various stains or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see diverse combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expressions of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number of things which you can then reduce into separate and well conceived forms" (173). Friends and guests enter our house and, no matter how many times they have entered our house, they look at me and then turn to Luca's painting of me: "Do you see that painting up there that looks like the victor." All across my faces.

In Luca's painting, there is no single face. Quite the opposite: layers besides layers of faces. Topologically arranged, yet obsessively rearranging themselves. They signify Uberty. And yet, also Pleroma. That is the gift that the painting offers. Us all.

(copyright by Victor Vitanza. All rights reserved)

Works Cited:
Mccurdy, Edward. Leonardo da Vinci's Notebooks: Arranged and Rendered into English. NY: Kent Press, 2007.
Richter, Gerhard. Writings, Interviews, and Letters 1961-2007. Eds. Dietmar Elger and Hans-Ulrich Obrist. London: Thames and Hudson, 2009.
Sebeok, Thomas A. "One, Two, Three Spells U B E R T Y." The Sign of Three. Ed. Umberto Eco and Sebeok. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1983. 1-10.


Painting the glass

Somewhere breath stops and the process of transformation begins: man against wall, a barrier to keep ageing bones upright, to halt that plunge into black nothingness. Digital seizures come cheap, without discrimination. Wipe or swipe as required. The interrogation of the painter is more considered, labour intensive, open to a braver register of failure. The painting of the treated photograph of the accidental self-impersonation of this man, the unsecured subject, opens a lengthy negotiation. What the painter actually achieves is a purer sense of the temporal: time lost, time smeared, time cancelled, time reprieved. The red of bricks, dug from a quarry and baked, becomes a chill blue, a vertical ocean of contemplation and solitude. Thin spectacles keep paint from tired eyes. The title of a film by Stan Brakhage - The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes - confirms the necessary limits of the project. ‘If you focus your own eyes sharply... you will notice irregularities in whatever kind of film strip you hold, in even the most so-called opaque or blank,’ Brakhage wrote. The subject of a portrait, never sitting for (or even meeting) the remote painter, is condemned to remain opaque, a simulacrum of life. He is a cartography of flaws. An autobiographical narrative of marks on canvas: erasures, improvements. It is possible in this way, unlanguaged or mute, to become fluent in the light of colour, translated to some remote place, a studio, a lake. London vanishes. The painter, at some point, decides that he has done enough. The subject tries to walk out, to return to the original wall, the same doorway. They have vanished, but his shadow is still there.

(copyrights by Iain Sinclair. All rights reserved)


Seeing myself recomposed in the time-honored medium of oil paint is a real thrill, no question about it. From a vanity point of view I also confess that I like looking, in this painterly interpretation of me, more rugged than I actually am: “The Philosopher as Lumberjack” might be a good subtitle for this tableau. And though I have not, so to speak, seen the painting “in the flesh”, it seems to me to have an incredible texture and solidity. In a word, monumental! One would hardly suspect its origins in a simple university identification photo.

To have been offered this portrait by an excellent artist was already a stroke of good luck, wholly unexpected. What is more, if I had been asked to imagine a style of depiction for such a portrait that would be most to my taste, I believe I would have imagined something akin to the style with which Luca Del Baldo captures and transfigures his subjects.

I now hazard a few general remarks on portraiture. First, what photographic portraits reveal differs from what painterly portraits reveal: in a nutshell, photographic portraits show what is on public view, however refracted, whereas painterly portraits show what may be hidden, yet immediately recognized as true. Second, a painterly portrait may reveal as much about its maker as it does about its subject; both are, though in different ways, plainly mirrored in it. Third, painting someone’s portrait may be a way of possessing them, if only metaphorically, and is akin to an act of love, at least in most cases.

Returning to Luca’s suite of portraits of philosophers as a whole, I can’t forbear remarking on the irony of memorializing the outward faces of those whose careers are mainly given to inner reflection, of preserving the transient exteriors of those whose principal distinction is their involvement with the life of the mind.

(copyright by Jerrold Levinson. All rights reserved)

A portrait based on a photograph raises questions that fascinate me as an amateur photographer and student of visual perception. What is physical differences allow us to look at two representations, both “realistic,” and judge one to be photographic and the other artistic? This is becoming a serious issue in digital photography, which not only offers photographers the ability to convert a photo into a painterly representation with a keystroke if they explicitly choose to do so, but more and more is offering manipulations that cause a photograph to begin to look like a painting in subtle and unintended ways—techniques like high-dynamic-range software that combines multiple exposures into a single image, tone mapping, and context-sensitive shadow and highlight manipulations. The resulting “painterly” images are often considered unrealistic and inferior as photographs—though other kinds of manipulation may yield representations that differ just as much from the original image, yet are perceived as still “photographic.” What is the difference, and should we welcome the birth of a new genre that is neither a photograph nor a drawing? Also, why do we sometimes find paintings and drawings more aesthetically pleasing and emotionally evocative than a corresponding photograph? Part of the answer may be that artists (and digital image manipulation engineers) have implicitly discovered what the visual brain “wants” – which properties of a visual image deliver the most informative and analyzable understanding of the world, sometimes one that is more ideal than the real world could ever deliver. This may include hyper-real levels of contrast, color, and sharpness, and, in addition, high levels of local and fine-scale contrast (making edges and surfaces easy to perceive) with low global and coarse-scale contrast (making the image as a whole harmonious and balanced). But push this too far and some other part of visual memory registers the fact that the image qualities are far outside the envelope of possible experience. And the artist, of course, adds visual touches that have an aesthetic and even an editorial intent—visual originality, moods of brightness and clarity or their opposites, perceptions of health and robustness and energy, a sense of invitation or foreboding or desire or repulsion.

(copyrights by Steven Pinker. All rights reserved)


According to the British philosopher Roger Scruton’s essay “Photography and Representation,” painted portraits are “intentional” representations of the character of subjects revealed over time, while photographs are “causal” representations capturing only the subject’s fleeting appearance at the moment recorded by the camera. Although it may be possible to cite contrary examples—paintings by a Degas depicting glimpses of incidental evanescence or photographic portraits by an Avedon or a Struth skillfully revealing the souls of their subjects—the contrast is nonetheless suggestive, especially when the photo is a snapshot taken without any deliberate staging. 

But what can we make of an oil painting that is not based on a direct encounter with the figure being painted, but rather on a photograph of him? Can such a painting convey anything essential if the subject has never even met the painter, let alone sat for him? How are we to make sense of the remediation from one medium to another, from an image produced instantaneously through the magic of digital pixels to one wrought slowly by successive brushstrokes of paint? What are the implications of such a strange hybrid, in which the skill of the artist’s hand is employed to register what his eyes have seen only indirectly? What kind of “work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility” to borrow Benjamin’s famous phrase, can create an auratic original out of a mechanically enabled reproduction? 

No easy answers to these questions can be offered, but let me make a few tentative stabs on the basis of the painting Luca Del Baldo fashioned from a digital image taken for this purpose by a professional photographer, my daughter Rebecca Jay. Needless to say, his offer to do so is itself an enormous honor, and my inclusion in the company of so many other distinguished subjects—a number of whom turn out to be friends of long-standing—is deeply moving. But rather than focus on my personal response, I want to think more generally about the implications of the procedure, in particular as its potential is developed by Del Baldo. He is, of course, not its inventor; you can, in fact, go on line to find dozens of sites that offer to turn photos into oil paintings. But the results, if the samples they show are any indication, are cloyingly sentimental, hastily produced idealizations that look as if their air-brushed subjects were displays in a wax museum. In Del Baldo’s work, in contrast, fidelity to the sharpness of the photographic image, reproducing whatever unflattering imperfections may have been recorded, trumps whatever “intentional” enhancement a painting might offer. In hyper-realist style, he retains all the random details an unretouched photograph inevitably captures. The unruly hairs on the head, the trace of unshaven stubble on the chin and lower lip, the wrinkles radiating from the eyes all survive the transition from photograph to painting. Contingency triumphs over design.

But in the transition, there is also something added that ironically bestows an aura of authenticity on what is, after all, a copy of a copy. For even without the sitter in front of the artist for an extended period, the process of painting in oil is painstakingly slow. Del Baldo, in fact, shared with me several iterations of the painting produced over a month of bringing it to its final state. The durational time Scruton notes as absent in the snapshot is somehow restored, congealed in the completed portrait, whose singularity replaces the infinite reproducibility of the photograph on which it is based.  Or more precisely, to recall one of Benjamin’s many definitions of “aura,” it manifests “a strange weave of space and time, the unique appearance of a distance, however near it may be.”  As a trace of a trace, it reverses what, as Roland Barthes famously noted, was the typically mortifying effect of the photograph. Such a revivification is produced, to cite another of Benjamin’s definitions of “aura,” by the investing of an object with the “ability to look back at us.” Or at least, it is hard not to perceive it as such, especially when we gaze into the masterfully rendered eyes, which somehow express the special bond between a father and his beloved daughter. Here causality and intentionality comingle to produce a work that defies reduction to an essentialized version of either painting or photograph. Oil and water may not mix, but oil and pixels apparently do.

(copyrights by Martin Jay. All rights reserved)


Portrait of Luca Del Baldo

What I sent as a digital file, my likeness, returned as a painting via Federal Express.  The invitation to serve as a subject (which meant to become an object) dropped into my inbox out of the blue.  Like all gifts, this one obliged me to reciprocate:  to donate a text, this text, in exchange.  A private exchange of images, whose format would change in exchange, conducted through public channels both virtual and actual.  Now this painting is my private property, but its author may still use its image (posting it, for instance, on-line).  What kind of mirror is this, refracted through electronic and vehicular logistics, and an ancient artistic technology?  Is it an obstruction in the circuits it traverses?  It took a long time to paint.

A grid is the infrastructure of transposition, still visible in the painting itself.  My face is mapped across longitude and latitude--my forehead a globe, two ears different continents.  This image no longer travels but it remains a map after all.

A likeness of a likeness, a digital file arrested in paint, which calls forth another digital file, this text.  Luca, please paint this text.

(Copyrights by David Joselit. All rights reserved)


Looking over my shoulder, my ten-year-old son saw the picture on my screen, laughed and asked, “When, why, who, where … and what?” 

“I know what you mean,” I answered. “This portrait!  When:  just recently.  Why:  because he’s an artist making a series of portraits of people who write about the visual arts.  Who:  the artist is Luca del Baldo, and, yes, that’s me.  Where:  I’m in Vienna and the painter lives in Italy.  And what?  It’s a detail from a still from my film.”

My son’s “when” came first, because hanging in our home, for peculiar reasons, are many portraits of me, all painted in oil on canvas, and in a not dissimilar style to the portrait by Luca del Baldo, with broken brushwork, and greens, blues, and purples supplementing flesh tones, but all of those other portraits of me are made when I was a child, looking eerily like my son, hence his—my son’s— bewilderment:  not that there would be a portrait, but that it would be of me more or less as I am now, as his father, with his blue shirt and blazer, receding hairline, and sideburns dateable no earlier than 2014, when a barber in New York recommended them to me.  And knowing that the “when” had to be recently, there followed the incredulous why, where, and what.

Can any image be explained?  Some art historians would like to think so.  On the one hand, there’s the silent picture that draws us to it, makes us wordlessly attend to its engaging look:  in my portrait, enjoyable to me whether or not it’s me, those horizontal black strokes with faint hints or traces of blue that render the right edge of my lapel and end, at the nape of my neck in the blackest black; or the powder blue vertical strokes, of the color I would want for my eyes, controlled not, though, by the likeness, but by the grid that, granted full visibility in the painting, belongs to the final “and what” of my son’s inquiry.  On the other hand, there’s the strange ambition to turn all those observations—mostly mute fascinations—into words, and then into interpretations.  But my son insisted on the what, not the why:  he knew I could explain, but wanted me simply to identify:  what is this, this painting?

But first, more precisely, where:  Luca del Baldo’s Portrait shows me in Vienna, in the city center, in stride on the Jordangasse, between Rachel Whiteread’s holocaust memorial on the Judenplatz and the archives of “Austrian resistance” (as the Austrian government calls holocaust-related materials) housed in the Johann Fischer von Erlach’s spectacular Old City Hall.  I was caught on camera in June 2014, within a film on Viennese homemaking; the film was still in progress when the portrait was painted, and footage of my walk from the Judenplatz to the archives will probably be, in the end, cut from the film.  Almost twenty-years before (in 1997), pursuing the fate of my father’s family in Vienna, I walked the same street to the archives, but not know what I’d find there, the documents attesting to my grandparent’s deportation from Vienna on 9 June 1942 to the death camp Mali-Trostinec.  The cobblestoned Jordangasse winds its way from what was, until the pogrom of 1421, a flourishing Jewish community with a synagogue and school.  Lavishly ornamented with noble coats-of-arms, caryatids, and atlantes, the buildings on both sides of the street are unnoticed jewels of baroque Vienna.  Walking past the camera, I tried to look at the décor as I passed, though I was conscious of being filmed, and probably was instead fingering the keys in my pocket.

My father was a professional painter who painted Vienna from life.  Born in Vienna in 1915 and forced to emigrate in 1938, when Hitler annexed Austria, he had a moment of considerable fame in 1947-1949 when he showed his paintings—surrealist tableaux of war-torn Europe and the messiness of urban America—in New York and Berlin.  When Abstract Expressionism took over the art scene in New York, he moved to Pittsburgh (partly because it looked like Vienna, with its rivers and bridges and multi-ethic neighborhoods) and painted and sold to local clients paintings in oil and watercolor of Vienna (his clientele often mistook scenes of that cities for views in the environs of Pittsburgh).  My father’s favorite aspects of both cities (Vienna and Pittsburgh) were the hilly woods on their outskirts and their ornamented interior—in Vienna through it baroque buildings, in Pittsburgh through its steel mills.   Although nobody would call him that, he thought of himself as a “baroque” painter.  When I made the film, I was paying homage to his walks through Vienna in pursuit of motifs for his pictures and of answers to the great question of survival, of being a survivor.  The baroque Jordangasse, stretched between the Judengasse and the archives as between the pogroms of 1421 and 1941-3, fitted my purpose, so I planted the camera on one side of the street and let it catch me walking by on the other side, keeping so close to the plaster walls that my blue jacket got smudged with white.

I sent Luca del Baldo a still of that shoot because I liked that it showed me in that act of pursuit (whatever the film was about, it centered on my and my father’s obsessive belief that the secret lay hidden in the city and could only be revealed by walking and looking) and because I liked the profile view because it’s impersonal.  What Luca del Baldo then sent me, in stages, was something uncannily sharp (my left nostril, so intimate to me; the downturned left edge of my mouth, so disappointing, etc.), even as also everywhere shot through with the wonderful accidents of making (no matter how formalized the grid makes them, the brushstrokes retain a randomness that compels—or allows—us to complete the image).

When my father painted me, as he often did, not as a portrait of his son, but as staffage in his scenes of Vienna (and Pittsburgh), he did so mostly in three-quarters and once from the rear, but never in profile.  When?  From the moment I was born:  he painted me in my crib, surrounded by reproductions of Giotto’s frescoes in the Arena Chapel, which were pasted to my nursery walls.  Why?  Because he painted everything that looked interesting in everyday life, and I and my sister and mother were central to his everyday life.  Who?  Of course me, and him, and my sister and mother, and a host of other people who he asked to pose for him, in Pittsburgh and Vienna.  Where?  Indeed, in Pittsburgh and Vienna.  But what?  What caused this, what causes the painting?

My father commenced his pursuit, undertaken through the medium of painting, when he learned, in 1946, what I discovered in 1997, in the archive toward which, in the film and in the portrait, I’m headed:  that his parents were murdered.  I commenced my pursuit, undertaken through the film explicitly, but as an art historian globally and implicitly, when, wandering through Vienna with him while he searched for baroque motifs to paint (e.g., the caryatids of the Jordangasse), I asked of him, but silently, my son’s range of questions.  These are things I know.  But they do not answer the “what” of my son’s question, as he realized instantaneously, from the fact that the painting was of me now, and therefore not by my father, that there must be a completely foreign desire—foreign to him, to me, to our family—underlying the picture.

Luca del Baldo paints portraits of art historians, I told him.  The grid, I told him, may have helped the transfer of the photo to the painting, but we both agreed that it was much more than that.  For me, who knows I was walking at breakneck speed on the Jordangasse, who saw myself walking in the film from which the still was taken, the grid belongs to the painter, exerting his control, allowing me to marvel at the exactitude that he had that my father (who never once worked from photographs) did not have, but also allowing me to marvel at things more familiar to me than that face that I know from barber’s mirrors (when they show you, with a mirror reflected in the mirror, the side and back of your head):  how a tiny dot of reddish brown on the curve of my nose integrates the likeness into the background—that rusticated ground story of the building that I march past, those beautiful, terrifying plaster protrusions that read to me, in the painting and in life, as casts of the documents preserved in the archives of Austrian “resistance” and in Whiteread’s amazing monument, with its rows of books in inverted forms. 

Is every painting as overdetermined as this?  Or is it the painter’s purpose that made it such:  portraits of people whose business it is to state the when, why, who, where, and what?  There’s a bit of green where my left collar meets the upper edge of my right color.  It’s precise, like the grid, and it must have been only there then, as I marched through the Jordangasse at that specific time and place.  As an art historian, I am amazed by, and I’m rendered speechless by, that one daub of paint there and then that took less than a second to make but a century to motivate.

(copyrigts by Joseph Leo Koerner. All rights reserved)


Critical Theory in and of the Flesh

In Luca Del Baldo’s portrait of me, I see a face, which is recognizably mine, but which confronts me through an extended series of mediations. It is me, to be sure, but me as refracted through the eyes (and hands) of several others. The first and most important other is Del Baldo himself, who materializes his seeing of me through paint on canvas. But he has never laid eyes on me in the flesh. He has painted me, rather, from a photograph. It is one that I sent him myself, as an email attachment, after selecting it from the file of “publicity shots” stored on my computer. The photograph was taken by another other, Uwe Dettmar, who did meet me face-to-face, but whose work was shaped by institutional imperatives. Dettmar was engaged to produce my likeness for the homepage of the Humanities Research Center in Bad Homburg Germany, which wished to advertise its then-current crop of Fellows, of which I was one. From this photograph, Del Baldo produced a “me” that amalgamates disparate agendas and ways of seeing, not least his own. It certainly is a likeness of me–and a very good one at that. But the “me” that appears on his canvas incorporates traces of a larger social world. And that world is quite complex. Comprising individuals, institutions and social relations, it is shot through with orders of normative and aesthetic value, with structures of political economy and power asymmetry.

I have no doubt that Del Baldo is interested in, indeed playing with, the complexities of representation, He is concerned, it seems to me, with the relation between seeing and thinking. In titling his project “The Visionary Academy of Ocular Mentality,” he explicitly juxtaposes two registers: on the one hand, the corporeal subject whose visible likeness he creates, a subject with a body and a face, who occupies a specific location in space and time; on the other, the thought that subject germinates, which strives for a disembodied existence that transcends its context of origin. The result is a striking revelation: philosophical reflection issues from embodied individuals. Its transcendence is grounded in immanence. Mind wears a sensuous face.

Interestingly, this entanglement of immanence and transcendence is central to the philosophical tradition with which I identify. For Critical Theory, thought necessarily arises from specific historical contexts, which mark it in ways that often escape notice. Often, too, the marking is a kind of warping, which prettifies domination and excuses injustice, even despite good intentions. Exposing such ideological distortion is one of the tasks of Critical Theory, which works in part by excavating the buried threads that tie thought to the social worlds that simultaneously enable and constrain it. But there’s a catch. Critique cannot exempt itself from the suspicion it casts upon others. Cultivating historical self-awareness, it must do its best, which will never be good enough, to guard against its own contamination by the built-in biases of its situation. With respect to itself, then, as well as to others, Critical Theory insists on philosophy’s immanence, its inescapable entanglement with the here-and-now.

But there is also another aspect of Critical Theory. Unwilling to abide exclusively in the realm of suspicion, this tradition also affirms transcendence. Rejecting a view of “the given” as a static, unchanging prison, it seeks out the small shoots and tendrils which, although tethered to the earth, reach out to the sun. In this second register, critique gives voice to hope by disclosing possibilities for emancipation. The possibilities it seeks are not abstract, ideal, or out-of-time, however, not the sort that invite escapism. On the contrary, they are historical possibilities, which emerge from within a social situation that is itself self-contradictory and dynamic. In disclosing those possibilities, Critical Theory links the desire for transcendence with the aspiration to overcome domination, while grounding those impulses historically, in a social reality that moves.

Much more could (and should!) be said about Critical Theory’s distinctive approach to the co-imbrication of immanence and transcendence. Here, however, I want only to signal its resonance with Del Baldo’s problematic of “Ocular Mentality.” There too one encounters the peculiar entanglement of soaring thought with fleshly immanence. As I contemplate his portrait of me, however, I struggle to hold those two poles together–because now they are poles of me. I am a philosopher who aspires to clarify the impasses of her time in hopes of discerning a path that leads beyond them. But I am also an embodied natural being with a face. This face is mine alone, but it also speaks volumes about our social world in accents that should be legible to Critical Theory. It is the face of a human animal, white, European-descended, gendered female, middle-aged but healthy looking, reasonably well preserved, and groomed in ways that bespeak nutritional and medical advantages born of the privileges of class, color, and national citizenship. I am flesh, but in my flesh is written an entire history of domination on a global scale. And in reading my flesh, I find my philosophical voice as a Critical Theorist. Seeking to decode the given, I also hope to transcend it. In the fleshly immanence of present-day social reality I search for signs that point beyond it.

Nancy Fraser, 2016
(Copyrights by Nancy Fraser. All rights reserved)


I do like this painting!  It catches a moment in my life that is especially nice to preserve — in Maine, with all of my family, just off of the water, which is my element.  Luca Del Baldo has put light and depth into the execution that perfectly complements the occasion and my mood.  He paints of life with the same genius with which he paints of death.  How a mortal can accomplishes such magic is, for me, a matter of mystery and a matter for deep awe!

Garry   L.  HAGBERG:

The Look of Wittgenstein: On a Portrait by Luca del Baldo

   In Philosophical Investigations, Sec. 78, Wittgenstein writes:

       Compare knowing and saying:

       how many metres high Mont Blanc is –
       how the word “game” is used – 
       how a clarinet sounds.

With three examples – and indeed only fragments of three examples, because we have to supply the background contextual content that gives these words their point within their conversational homes – we are instantly thrown into a world in which the relation between knowing a thing and being able to say that thing we know, to capture what we know in a proposition, is more complex than we might initially have imagined – a world where that relation may not be direct. Unearthing presupposition, Wittgenstein comments:

       Someone who is surprised that one can know something and not be able to say it is perhaps thinking of a case like the first. Certainly not one like the third.

Certainly not one like the third. Knowing a thing, Wittgenstein is reminding us, is too easily pictured in terms of our knowledge of a determinate quantitative fact. And this promotes the unconsidered belief (or really a sort of pre-belief in the intuitive substrate) that if we know it, then we can say it. And if we cannot say it, then that means one of two things, one less interesting, one more interesting. The former is that, given the intuitions and model-cases or examples in place, we take this inability to say as the sign that we do not know. How many jellybeans are in that jar? It is impossible to know the number and not be able to say it. As a witness in a court of law, if we are asked how many men we saw breaking through the bank’s front door the night of the robbery, and we cannot answer or even choose between about two and about seven, the question arises whether we really saw – whether we know – anything at all about the break-in.  But the second, more interesting thing, is this: given the undetected power on our thinking of what we can call the “Mont Blanc” model, we think that because we cannot say it succinctly, because we cannot propositionally encapsulate what we claim to know (and feel sure that we do know – we all know the sound of a clarinet), then we do not really know it, or we do not know it with both the completeness and the epistemic surety that we know the height of Mont Blanc.  But this, if anything is, is to try to live on what Wittgenstein called a “one-sided diet of examples”. We need to add examples such as knowing the sound of a clarinet, and, as Luca del Baldo’s powerful, gripping, and imaginatively absorbing portrait of Ludwig Wittgenstein shows, examples such as knowing the look of a person. And we need to reflect on what happens to our epistemic intuitions concerning the relations between knowing and saying once cases of this kind are placed centrally in our thinking about the ways in which we know things. But then what would it mean to place such cases centrally

Let us consider: in conversation about a book from which he drew a great deal and to which he repeatedly returned over many years -- Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamozov, Wittgenstein said that there really have been such persons as Father Zossima. In the book, Zossima is a rare kind of person, but one of a kind we all, or many of us, have encountered along the way: one who seems to see directly into the depths, or into the soul, of person. The kind of person who can look into you, see into you, or as we also say, look through you. Now: if we know of such a person, and are asked what is it about the person that conveys or indicates this distinctive and special moral capacity, we will likely repeat what has already been said, i.e. the person seems to see into one’s soul, etc. But it is of course precisely this that is being asked about and so this attempt at an answer in fact answers nothing. Or so we think – given a propositional-encapsulation picture of the relation between knowing and saying. Actually hitting this wall can itself constitute a kind of saying (if only partially by merely hinting or pointing) what we know, what we see – but in a way importantly different from seeing three robbers. Dostoevsky shows what Father Zossima is like, by showing the mode of engagement and the character of his interactions with others: we see this (a) in the way he speaks – the tone, the sensitivity, the focus on the minute particular before him while seeing this within an expansive and capacious frame of human sympathetic understanding, (b) the words he uses the help others give articulate voice to otherwise inchoate experience, and (c) the way he employs stories to simultaneously cast light and inculcate self-understanding. And so in answering how we know that an actual person is like this, we can say: “She’s like Father Zossima”. But then that requires that one first has seen in the literary character what one is asking about in the real person, so we still have not hit upon a description of a narrowly identified “Mont Blanc” fact that serves as the essential article of sayable knowledge. And we haven’t hit on one because, in short, there isn’t one. So to position such a case centrally in our thinking, we might then say not that such cases are by their verbally-indirect nature in the epistemic second rank, not really knowledge, but rather that it is precisely these that are the interesting cases, the cases worthy of more attention; the simple ones, by contrast, are just that -- simple.

   In Philosophical Investigations, “Philosophy of Psychology – A Fragment” (formerly Part II), Sec 129,
   Wittgenstein (having just been discussing the duck-rabbit case) writes:

       The change of aspect. “But surely you’d say that the picture has changed altogether now!”
       But what is different: my impression? My attitude? – Can I say? I describe the change like a perception; just as if the object had changed before my eyes.

Just as if – as if the object or drawing changed. But the interesting thing about what we know about what we have seen (on an ocular level) is: it hasn’t changed. So in terms of pointing to or defining a determinate physically demarcated change in the thing I perceive, in terms of identifying the “Mont Blanc” feature: there isn’t one. And thus the point of his question: Can I say? There is no single independently-identifiable physical feature, and so there is no single propositionally encapsulating statement recording our perception of that feature that then serves as the expression of our knowledge, the direct saying of what we see and know. 

To see the special human depth of a person we describe as if he or she is Father Zossima is to perceive something irreducible and perceptually complex about what that person perceives; we, in our interaction with them, see something deep about what they see in their interactions with others. 

   In “Philosophy of Psychology – A Fragment”, Sec. 137, Wittgenstein writes:

       ‘Seeing as…’ is not part of perception. And therefore it is like seeing, and again not like seeing.

“Perception” as he is using the word here, means physiological perception; seeing-as is not reducible to that. Seeing-as is thus not like seeing (in that sense); yet it is what we quite readily describe in ocular terms, or indeed, as Wittgenstein said above, as a change in perception. If we see, in the look of a person, that special quality of (what we call) seeing into a soul that father Zossima exemplifies, we see in them their capacity to see into persons. Seeing into a soul is like seeing, and yet again not like seeing.

   In “Philosophy of Psychology – A Fragment”, sec. 143, Wittgenstein writes:

       I meet someone whom I have not seen for years; I see him clearly, but fail to recognize him.
       Suddenly I recognize him, I see his former face in the altered one.

The line drawing, the duck-rabbit, has not changed -- and yet the content of what we see, and what we say we see, has changed greatly. The face on the street before us was seen in full light, clearly and without obstruction, and yet we did not recognize our old friend – we did not see the younger face in the older one. And then suddenly we do. A wave of associations floods over and through what we see: our history with that person, what we did then or what we had together those many years ago, experiences that in part made us who we are – a thousand things can be awakened. And so Wittgenstein writes of this case:

       I believe that I would portray him differently now if I could paint.

Portray him differently now if I could paint. Now that he sees the younger face, the face he knew of years ago, in the older face before him now, he would – if the philosopher were a painter – paint him as he knows him to be, i.e. paint him as the owner of the face that, in a sense now discernible upon recognizing who this was and is, is in, or behind, the face he saw a moment ago prior to the recognition. This is indeed like seeing, but again not like seeing; it is the kind of case in which nothing physiologically has changed, nothing on an ocular level has changed, and yet, perceptually speaking, everything has.

Luca del Baldo has painted the face of the philosopher who just above imagined himself a painter (he actually was a musician, sculptor, and architect), the philosopher who just above gave us reminders of cases in which the relation between what we know and what we can say need not be direct, the philosopher who returned so often to The Brothers Karamozov and who claimed that there really were people like Father Zossima, the philosopher who said that it is as if the object before us has changed when we know it has not, the philosopher who uprooted unexamined presuppositions to change our way of seeing and thus caused new aspects to dawn. And the philosopher who – if the reports of many who knew him well, his biographers, and even persons who had brief encounters with him are correct – was himself a Father Zossima. Indeed, one can imagine – as I do – that his remark about people actually existing who are like that was in a slightly veiled or secondary sense a query to himself, an autobiographical speculation born of moral striving, about whether he himself might, at least sometimes, be one such individual.

If there were a single, determinate, and isolated criterion for this human imaginative and intelligent capacity – if there were a Mont Blanc fact of the matter for Zossimas – we could just look, see, and then say. But for all the reasons we have considered above, matters in these waters are not so simple. It might take a painter’s eye and philosophical imagination conjoined to exacting technical skill to capture what is in play here.

Looking to del Baldo’s portrait, we can see at a glance that Wittgenstein seems to emerge from a complex background; true of the actual lived experienced of the man Ludwig Wittgenstein, it is mimetically true here as the face emerges from a complex network of strong brushstrokes. But there is more to say on this particular feature of this painting: Hundreds of these strong brushstrokes make not only an image of the man, but also an image of the thousand small experiences integrated into a coherent self. It is true that one could say this of any portrait, but any such over-general claim would miss more than it captures, because these are brushstrokes that we remain aware of in our seeing of the figure. And so as viewers we integrate them into a coherent whole, we re-enact in the viewing of the painting the process of integration. Lucien Freud and Frank Auerbach also do this; English eighteenth-century portraiture, like a great deal of portraiture, does not – it consumes and conceals the smaller stroke, so that the act of integration is not part of the viewer’s conscious perceptual experience. And with this in mind, we can see that the jacket, a herringbone weave, can itself function as a metaphor, an image, of the complex yet pattern-forming weaving, or sewing together, of all the elements of a life. Or to use the very terms set out by Wittgenstein above: we see that it is a woven fabric; we can see it as a metaphor for a life’s self-made coherence. But while that interpretive suggestion may perhaps seem fanciful (I’ll leave the discussion of the varying degrees of legitimacy of awakened metaphorical content as part of aesthetic perception for another day), content related to the collar is not. Norman Malcolm, in his memoir of Wittgenstein, mentions that he almost always appeared in open neck collar regardless of setting. In its day, and in its context, this was seen as a kind of quiet act of sustained defiance: like both the tone and content of his philosophical work, it undercuts conventional expectations, and it declares his independence from them. This is not solely a matter of meaning-inert style -- we know that Wittgenstein said that the philosopher is not a member of any community of ideas, that he struggled to find, develop, and continually deepen his own authorial-philosophical voice, and that he said that if his ideas did not bear his distinct stamp he laid no further claim to them. We here need to use what Michael Baxandall called the period eye to look at that collar, and once we do we can now see it as what it was.

But one of Wittgenstein’s famous remarks was: “The body is the best picture of the human soul.” And, if less often quoted, he also referred to the face as the soul of the body. When a person was recommended to Abraham Lincoln for a Cabinet position, Lincoln said simply: “I don’t like his face.” Upon hearing the recommender then say that this is obviously irrelevant and that the person is not responsible for his face, Lincoln replied: “Every man over forty is responsible for his face.” There is more than a grain of truth in this: we can see character in a face, and we can see both the inscription of experience and, as if a palimpsest, the loss of innocence beneath it.  And so with this in mind, one imagines one sees – or one sees -- in del Baldo’s painting of Wittgenstein’s face the residual marks, the layered engravings, and the attendant sense of humane depth left behind by the unceasing labor of profound thinking and a life of complex human interaction. And here, particularly, the metaphorical content of the distinctively strong brushstrokes emerges in highest relief. 

But then – to go now to the most powerful aspect of this painting – what of Zossima? We have all heard since childhood: the eyes are the window to the soul (and later in life we probably learned the true depth of that saying). But we should also have been told: the eyes – some eyes, in any case – can powerfully and bracingly look out, into and to the bottom of another’s soul; the street can sometimes run two ways. This is precisely the sense that del Baldo captures, and while many paintings throughout the history of art feature central figures looking out, or even returning our gaze, it is not common to see cases like this.

The contemporary artist Marina Abramovic, in a 2010 installation at the Museum of Modern Art, installed herself at a chair, silently returning the gaze of each of many viewer-participants of the work who, next up in line, sat in a chair across from her, eyes locked for as long as they wanted. Her aim was to investigate artwork-audience relations, and viewers report all kinds of responses – breaking into tears, descending deep into the past, feeling liberated or exhilarated, becoming absorbed by the artist’s look, feeling challenged, sensing an impending destabilization of personhood, and so forth. She may be a Zossima, or she may be using the context to generate the appearance of a Zossima, or she may be challenging the very idea of a Zossima



The celebrated Edwardian portraitist John Singer Sargent once said “A portrait is
a painting with something wrong with the mouth.” Sargent, of course, made his
career at the very end of the epoch when, in this genre of art, the client continued
to be king. Now it tends to be the other way round. It is the artist who dominates.
Today in Britain, if you are lucky enough to be selected as a subject by one of
those painters – Lucian Freud, say, or Frank Auerbach – who still do portraits,
yet retain their credibility as cutting-edge artists, - you are given no say in the
result. Your appearance is merely a springboard for creative expression. Your
attitude must therefore be one of humble gratitude for being immortalized,
however much you may dislike the result.
I have never been painted or drawn by either of these artists, but I have been
drawn or painted by at least a dozen others, in some cases more than once. The
fact that I have been selected so often as a model may have something to do with
the fact that I write about art. Yet I have also been told, again more than once,
and by artists who are very different from one another, that they find my
appearance interesting. This cannot be taken entirely as a compliment. I am not,
and have never been, regularly handsome, by the standards set by Hollywood
films. Or, indeed, it must be said, by any other standard I can think of. Nor am I
particularly, memorably ugly.
After much thought on the subject, I am beginning to suspect that what the
random remarks of my various portraitists add up to –“It’s the tonality of your
skin…It’s the way you look at people…” is something both flattering and not
flattering. In my appearance they find a screen, on to which they can project
something of themselves.
Every image of me is an image of a different personality, in fact, of a different
person. And all these personalities are fictions, over which I have no control.
At this point I would like to quote, another, slightly less celebrated, remark by
Sargent: “I don’t dig beneath the surface for things that don’t appear before my
own eyes.” This omits the fact that the act of seeing is individual and unique.
What appears before the eyes of one painter may be invisible to another.
Essentially every portrait, of me, or of any other sitter, represents a coming
together of a complex set of variables. As a created object, it imposes stability on
a situation that is inherently unstable.
(Copyrights by Edward Lucie-Smith)


For Luca del Baldo

   When he was 23, Rembrandt painted a portrait of himself as a vain

young man with a feather in his jeweled hat. Shading his meditative

eyes, he highlights a vulnerable sensuous mouth.  Like the person it

(re)presents, the portrait has many pentimentos: the line defining his

shoulders is strong but undefined. By 1628, he’d painted himself in full

painter’s regalia, standing dwarfed in a large empty room, staring at a

huge canvas that overwhelms him. An etched self-portrait of 1631-2 is

more daring: hand on hip, he becomes an insolent dissatisfied young fop;

at 33, still richly clothed, he is weary and suspicious. How could the

young dandy that Rembrandt portrayed so skillfully have the insight to

see through his many personae?

     Aged 25, Reynolds did a portrait of himself as a chubby young

Artist holding a mirror and mahl stick, shielding his eyes with an

uplifted hand, the better to see his work. Later, become Sir Joshua

Reynolds, he presents himself as a lordly, worldly figure full of

authority and assurance, no trace of quest or questioning left.

Partial to hats and poses until old age, Goya favored profiling, looking

over his shoulder the better to catch himself. All this is gone in

disheveled sorrow, as he looks at us wanting to speak, to warn us of the

world he had seen.

     Chardin, informal and unselfconscious genial lover of the

ordinary, attentive to particulars, shields his bespectacled eyes with a


     We scrutinize old sepia photographs of family

reunions –strangers found in junk shops and adopted as fantasy

ancestors—longing to inherit what we imagine are their sturdy


     And now, here we are, contemporary philosophers mediated by

high tech photographs and the internet, presenting ourselves to Luca del

Bado –painter of agony and dead heroes -- , as if we were troubled

tough guys, deep thinkers, reflectively confronting The Real with nary a

trace of irony. Baring our faces, consenting to have our heads cropped,

we hope he will reveal us to ourselves.

(Copyrights by Amelie Rorty)