When I was a little girl of six or so, I somehow had myself convinced that the reflection I caught in my grandparents’ darkened dining room windows on a winter’s night was not really me. So I adopted the strategy of a jester. If my grandmother, tucked away in her cozy kitchen, loved me so much that she arranged to have a shadowy stand-in prettier, more balletic, more sophisticated, freer than I felt myself to be, then I could try and winkle this substitute girl out of her glassy shell. I leaped, I pirouetted, I gestured, I giggled, I waved – all to avail. She was such a clever mimic that she kept up with me at every turn. The world was conspiring to trick me, not out of malice but affection. Did Luca del Baldo, magician of mimesis, master of illusion, manage to catch me? The reticulated net just behind (before?) my image suggests that he did. And he has almost – but not quite – convinced me that this painting is really me. Why cannot I just yield into it? I might long ago have discarded its prototype – one of my institute’s “official” photographs -- had not Luca requested a sample around the same time. I did not particularly like what the camera had recorded: the glance into the faraway, the wrinkles, the frown lines, the pursed lips, the guarded and suspicious expression. How did that leaping, laughing little girl grow so serious and old? “Could that really be me?” -- as my beloved grandfather once remarked upon looking down at his own aged hands holding the evening newspaper. Much of my own countenance bears the scars of the singular tragedy of my life, the sudden death of my young son a quarter of a century ago. My favorite photograph, actually, is one that Alexander snapped of me a month before he died. I love that my innocent, genuine smile is the result of my looking at him looking back at me. . . . . . When Luca asked if I might suggest some sort of meaningful background, I mentioned that I had recently given a lecture on Breughel’s “Hunters in the Snow,” a painted allegory of winter that I much admire, especially with its rendering of crows and hounds, two of my favorite beings. (I have recently even named my black pup, Crow). The ease with which Luca “copies” a complex sixteenth century landscape is something at which to marvel. And at least it takes much of the focus off me. Yet there is one dog at the left of the painting gone missing in Luca’s artful cropping. It is the one creature, an exhausted black dog, that possesses a piercingly direct gaze, an insouciant foregrounded creature that stares plaintively out of the missing corner as if to say, “Wait did you see me? Really see me?” Mysteries disappear right in front of the portraitist’s eyes, as well as my own. Where did the long ago dog go? How did my shadow girl vanish into the darkness of a winter’s night, leaving behind this semi-stranger?

(copyright by Michael Ann Holly. All rights reserved)


What is it about my own portrait that both fascinates and eludes me? Unreserved pleasure, first of all, to recognize myself as the subject of a work of art, full of admiration for Luca for the skill with which it has been painted. Who could have predicted that I, like my great-grandfather the coal merchant, would also be painted from a photograph? Depicted in Cardiff, at the beginning of the twentieth-century his portrait today hangs in my Massachusetts study. Dating from the opening years of the twentieth-century and commissioned by a group of his “friends,” his portrait looks down at me from a distance thick with time. Wearing a three-piece suit and reclining in a chair draped with a leopard skin, Edwin Rabjohns Moxey sits at a desk with an inkwell, a feather quill, and a disorderly pile of papers before him. A full beard and a robust physique complete his presentation as a wealthy and successful collier. Luca, by contrast, works with my close-up photograph smiling directly at the viewer. No suit, comfortable chair, desk, or official papers. The setting, however minimal, offers a clue to my own academic occupation. Behind me, there is a side table with an oriental carpet covered with various sixteenth-century scientific instruments. Art historians, if not a general audience, may recognize those objects from Holbein’s portrait of The Ambassadors in the National Gallery in London. The functions of these two portraits are very different. My grandfather’s acknowledges his social position; mine serves the purposes of Luca’s artistic project. Gathering images of art historians, aestheticians, and art theorists of our time, Luca has assembled a regular “rogue’s gallery” of intellectuals in exchange for their opinions on the subject of portraiture. Reading their inspired texts, I admit that I have nothing much to offer beyond some subjective impressions. If my photograph recorded a fleeting expression, one of myriads of others that have come and gone in the temporal kaleidoscope that constitutes my identity, how then has it been invested with such tangibility and permanence? Layers of paint suggest that the process was neither easy nor spontaneous. Flesh tones are interspersed with dabs of grey and blue that translate the effects of shadows, and a remarkable intuition allows blue to interact with the grey and white of “my” beard to give shape and form to my chin. At certain points it is even possible to make out the delicate lines of the squared drawing that enabled the photograph to be transferred to canvas. The painting is a palimpsest of times: the time of the distinctively twenty-first century artistic imagination that conceived of these portraits as a series, of the instantaneity of photographic “capture,” and of Luca’s sensitive and careful translation into paint. Carlo Rovelli writes: “Time then, is the form in which we beings, whose brains are made up essentially of memory and foresight, interact with the world: it is the source of our identity.”1 Far from fixing identity, these portraits never belong to only one temporal location. “Traps” for the eye, they will elicit responses in those with whom they come in contact not only in this moment but in those to come. A mosaic of varied and sundry times, these works have been endowed with the capacity to create times of their own: “A portrait is not only both object and representation. It exists during its creation, as perception, and in memory, in reproduction, in description and as text; in its own time, through time, and beyond time.”2 The “presence” of my ancestor’s portrait has the capacity to set my imagination spinning into the past. From Cardiff to London, from whence my father emigrated, to Buenos Aires where I was born, my reflections will be colored by its provocative visuality. More direct and talkative than a document, my portrait may prompt similar ruminations in my own son about my passage from Argentina to Britain and the United States, as well as my interest in the history of art. More likely, however, once the familial moment has faded, and these paintings have finally been retired to attics (if not the dustbin of history), 1 Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time, trans. Simon Carnell and Erica Segre (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018), 189- 190. 2 Sarah Wilson, “Rembrandt/Genet/Derrida,” Portraiture. Facing the Subject, ed. Joanna Woodall (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 203-216, 203. is that both works will encourage reactions that have nothing to do with the lives of those represented. What attraction will they have for the future? Perhaps it is the very mystery they encase, their temporal materiality, their suggestion of a lost specificity, of a forgotten wrinkle in the passage of time. Enduring prompts drawing attention to the particularity of time’s experience as well as monuments to its implacable universality. Like barnacles on rocks at the seashore, these portraits will inspire and discard signification according the vagaries of time’s tide.
(copyright by Keith Moxey .  All rights reserved)

T.  J.    CLARK :

" For    Luca del Baldo "

What is it they say? – ‘Every picture tells a story.’ Or maybe it cannot itself tell the story, and waits patiently to hear one told about it, true or false – waits for the proud old proprietor to turn aside in the corridor and say: ‘They say the lady in the painting belonged to a family with lands above Trento, and she came down to Bergamo in search of a husband, and when she was twenty-two or twenty-three, alas…’ My story does not have an unhappy ending. The photograph I sent Luca del Baldo was taken two or three years ago, in a place I love: a great sweep of hills and forest by the Pacific, with whales going by, and paths where you can walk for an hour and see no one. For twenty years it was where I walked with my wife at weekends. It is very far away now, and I miss it, and we go back from time to time. The photo shows me sitting in the sunshine. I remember I was planted on a great fallen branch of a tree – the shadows of still living branches are visible on the grass. The tree stands above a stream running down to the beach – the Pacific is a few hundred yards away. I think the tree is a cottonwood. It is a massive, isolated, feathery thing; a landmark; you come over the hills from inland and see it below you against the ocean. I understand why Luca chose to edit the photograph I sent him, cutting away the right-hand third and concentrating on the creases on my face. The whole photo is (as they say) ‘too anecdotal’. As I was sitting on the whitened branch, a crow flew down from the cottonwood and perched on the branch close beside me. We held our breath. The bird sat still. I heard my wife reaching for her i-phone – I think the slight atmosphere of worry about my face must be partly me hoping the moment would last long enough to be recorded. It did. The crow was an entirely benign presence – both of us who saw it that morning had no doubt of that. It was welcoming me back to a land I cared for. If its blackness had a tinge of mortality to it – and I suppose that even in the charmed moment there must have been a faint sense of that in the background – it was as tactful, as gentle, as reasonable a harbinger as anyone could wish for. We were in America, but not the America of Poe. I know my face has its fill of wrinkles, and maybe my mouth looks a bit sour and skeptical. But these are superficial, or anyway banal. It is Baudelaire who asks somewhere (I’m quoting from memory, and probably making him too sunny): ‘Qui n’a pas connu l’un de ces beaux jours de l’esprit…?’ – a day when air and color flood in as never before, and time stops, and all the world is a Delacroix. Let my face – absurdly, counter-factually, I concede – be the face of such a moment. There is one more thread to the story. I said that often while walking the hills my wife and I were more or less alone, but earlier that morning we’d rounded a bend and come face to face with someone we knew well – someone we’d lost touch with, and never really expected to see again. She had been one of our students. One of the best: she ended up writing a wonderful study of Mayakovsky and Rodchenko. I say she was one of the best; but she had not been one of the happiest. I believe – the matter was never talked about explicitly – that something dreadful, something violent, had been done to her in the past. She was courageous and humane: I know she spent years as a valued counselor in a Rape Crisis Center. So you can imagine what it meant to us to see her accompanied on the path by a beautiful small boy, whom she introduced as her son. His name, she said, was Zephyr. They were returning from a night in a campsite by the ocean. Please then, when you look at my portrait, see me still basking in life’s occasional good luck.

T.J.  CLARK  , 2018
(copyright by T.J.  Clark . All rights reserved)


Portraits teach us much about those who directly, or indirectly, have impacted our lives. Families everywhere treasure paintings, photographs, or silhouette cut-outs depicting relatives and ancestors whose names have been lost in the mists of time, because they provide visual connections to our roots and personal histories. Portraits of family members often spark memories, adding new dimensions to stories that are already important to the fabric of our lives. In the most fundamental sense, Luca Del Baldo is enriching the family heritage of everyone he invited to participate in his “collective” portrait series, for each of us will receive the painting he made on the basis of a photograph sent to him. In my case, the connections to family are many since my daughter-in-law, KK Ottesen, was the photographer, and I am standing in the courtyard of the National Gallery of Art, where I served as curator for 45 years.

While portraits are of great interest for families, they also provide remarkable windows into worlds far beyond our own domestic spheres. We often turn to portraits to understand the distant past. When I think of ancient Egypt, for example, I not only reflect on the great pyramids, but also on the timeless images of pharaohs honed from black granite or other unyielding materials. I can trace my captivation with Egypt to my childhood when I first encountered the exotic face of Queen Nefertiti in my grandfather’s study, for a reproduction of the famed bust of the Egyptian queen sat on his large writing desk. Another portrait that played a role in connecting me to the past is Hans Holbein’s iconic portrayal of King Henry VIII. Henry’s power and might are unmistakable, both because of his elaborate wardrobe and the way his bulky mass fills the picture plane. Holbein’s image was never far from in my mind when studying English history or when reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. How different is that perception of leadership from the one Kehinde Wiley created with a far more approachable portrait of Barack Obama, who sits quietly and reflectively against a backdrop of greenery and flowers.

Artist self-portraits are another source of constant interest, for they offer insights into how their makers presented themselves to society. For example, Peter Paul Rubens never portrayed himself as a practicing artist. On the contrary, he showed himself as a debonair aristocrat comfortable with humanists and royalty, his primary patrons. Rubens, who always dressed appropriately for his high social status, invariably wore a wide-brimmed hat to hide his receding hairline. Without any reservation, he adhered to Renaissance ideals of proper decorum expressed by Baldassare Castiglione in his influential manual, The Book of the Courtier.

A very different artist image emerges from Rembrandt’s many painted, drawn, and etched self-portraits. We see him in all aspects of his life, and in many guises. Rembrandt appears as a young aspiring artist in Leiden, then as a towering master in Amsterdam until, late in life, his body, if not his indominable spirit, began to weaken and fail. He showed himself as a beggar sitting on a mound of dung, a respectable burgher, an artist holding his brushes and palette, but also in costumes that evoked Renaissance scholars and exotic travelers from abroad. Rembrandt, however, never idealized his own features, and, over time, we see his bulbous nose widen and his jowly cheeks grow ever more distended. The one constant is his steady gaze, often heavy and not without sadness. In a number of self-portraits, Rembrandt left his eyes partially obscured in shadow, allowing us to find our own path into the window of his soul. In similar ways, the personas and personal histories of other artists become ever more understandable through their self-portraits, not least among them Vincent van Gogh.

Portraits of thinkers whose ideas have helped shape the course of human history are also endlessly intriguing. Portrait series of important ancient philosophers, writers and artists often hung in the studies of Renaissance and Baroque humanists. Images of Aristotle, Plato and Socrates, imaginative or real, still spark our interest because they help ground the abstract ideas of these philosophers into physical realities to which we can all connect. The same can be said for Lucas Cranach’s depictions of the pugnacious Marten Luther, or Albrecht Dürer’s engraving of Erasmus thoughtfully writing at a desk in his study. Dürer’s engraving helped spread Erasmus’ fame throughout Europe, much as do photographs and videos of twentieth-century leaders and thinkers, such as Martin Luther King, Jr.

We look at portraits because they help connect us with others, providing some sense of their physical appearance and psychological character, but we also enjoy portraits because they are often beautiful and compelling works of art. Many questions exist, however, about the art of portraiture, not least the nature of the relationship between artist and sitter. What message is being conveyed through pose, costume, pictorial setting, chiaroscuro effects, or degree of finish? How does an artist suggest the sitter’s inner life? What about a painting’s scale? What difference does it make if a portrait can be worn on a necklace, is displayed in a grand entrance hall, or published in a book? Does it matter if an artist paints or draws directly from a living model or from an intermediary image, such as an antique cameo, engraving or photograph, a pictorial source that nineteenth century artists, among them Thomas Sully and Thomas Eakins, began using after the invention of photography?

Luca Del Baldo’s project —to publish a “collective” portrait of individuals involved in the arts, literature and philosophy, with accompanying written commentaries — raises a number of fascinating questions. Unlike traditional portrait series, Luca had little or no role in selecting the photographs. Hence, his distinctive manner of painting, not the figure’s pose or setting, is the visual link that connects these images. Although his portraits essentially remain true to the sitter’s appearance, faces appear somewhat craggier than in reality because of his distinctive manner of modeling with bold, unblended brush strokes. As befitting a portrait series featuring writers and thinkers, he emphasizes eyes, for they purportedly allow access to the sitter’s inner being. It should be noted, however, that Luca’s portraits are not the essence of the project, only its byproduct. The portraits will never be exhibited together as a group, as Luca is sending each sitter his or her portrait for their own private enjoyment. Luca’s “collective” portrait is a revolutionary concept that merges painting, photography, and written texts in ways that will yield fascinating insights into the nature of philosophical and art historical discourse in the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., 2019

(copyright by  Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.   All rights reserved)        


"I have a prejudice against photography"

 To put it more precisely, I have been arguing for a long time against the cultural pressures of what I call 'photographic exceptionalism'. This could be defined as taking the 'invention' of photography to have been be a decisive development in visual communication which not only dominated the future but has also now come to infiltrate our understanding of the past. Thirty-five years ago, I started writing about Ruskin in The Clothing of Clio. I then explained how his reaction to his surprise discovery of the Daguerreotype, which he described metaphorically as tantamount to experiencing Venice as an 'enchanted land', was closely akin to the claim of an eighteenth-century instrument of miniaturised reproduction, designed to 'bring all paradise before your eyes'. Photography 'aroused no absolutely new types of response', or so I fondly claimed. Now that Ruskin's bi-centenary is already upon us, I hope to be showing shortly in a paper on 'Ruskin and Photography' how he was in fact passionately engaged in the whole range of print techniques which had burgeoned in the mid-nineteenth-century: among them, steel engraving, colour lithography and mezzotint, all of which were employed to specific purposes in the grandiose achievement of the first edition of Stones of Venice. Scant attention is now paid to this rich medley. When I recently reviewed Antony Griffiths' compendious study entitled The Print Before Photography, which has a notional finishing date of 1820, I suggested that a more appropriately angled title might well be: The Print Before Photography (Distorted History By Retrospectively Branding Prints As Reproductive). The myth of the 'original' print (indeed misleading as so many of these signed and numbered 'originals' are now produced by photo-mechanical processes) tends to devalue retrospectively the work of the centuries up to the nineteenth when it was the engraver's task to apply an aesthetically fine system of graphic transcription to the visual forms devised by painters and sculptors. Much of my writing over the years has also been concerned with reviving an interest in the works of Paul Delaroche, who was posthumously branded as having greeted Daguerre's invention with the melodramatic exclamation: 'From today painting is dead!'. Unfortunately, it is never possible to prove 2 beyond any doubt that a person did not say words that are commonly attributed to him. But a large part of my research effort has been devoted to showing how such a remark (derived from a flimsy later source and implausibly backdated) is not at all in accordance with what can easily be discovered about Delaroche's awareness of (and nuanced reactions to) the new medium. That Delaroche was well aware that photography would ultimately put the reproductive engravers out of business is beyond doubt. But you might think that these zealous harbingers of tradition had already succumbed by 1840, if you followed the received accounts of nineteenth century visual culture up to very recently. I made a bid to resuscitate this forgotten world, in two studies, Parallel Lines (2001) and Distinguished Images (2013). I conceived by the way a great fascination with the work of the late nineteenth-century engraver, Ferdinand Gaillard, of whom the high-priest of photographic triumphalism, William Ivins, wrote that 'his ideal was 'a sort of hand-made daguerreotype'. Of course, Gaillard was well aware of photography. He most probably used photography as a basis for some of his most stunning portrait prints. But it is precisely the fact that these prints are not actually 'photographic' - the fact that they are worked over so sedulously and minutely by the engraver's tools - that gives them their undoubted visual authority. When the photograph that lies behind Luca del Baldo's portrait was taken, I was briefly in Galway in the West of Ireland to deliver a short talk on the work of the British/Australian painter, John Beard. John had installed two vast and complementary works at opposite ends of an enormous shed on the harbour-side of the city. Both were in fact black and white transcriptions of Théodore Géricault's Raft of the Medusa. They reproduced the actual size of the original painting, first shown at the Paris Salon of 1819, which had afterwards travelled in the form of a duplicate copy to be exhibited in London and Dublin. The first of these two works by Beard bore the traces of having being painted, while the second was a direct reflection of its forerunner, produced by photo-mechanical means. Beard also produced an ink-jet print which based on the initial painted version. What I particularly admire about the way in which 'photography' pervades this project is the fact that the process is by no means obvious in the different stages of reproduction that constitute the two-part work. The materiality of 3 paint, and the memory of another painting, jointly hold our attention The work as a whole also demonstrates, but is not dominated by, the phenomenon of the photographic registration of light. The circumstances in which my own photograph was taken for this collection, and the way in which the new painted image has emerged, remind me of another recent experience. For a considerable time, I have carried around with me the memory of viewing Giulio Paolini's haunting Young Man Looking at Lorenzo Lotto. This is, I should explain, Paolini's photographic version of a small portrait of a young man by the Lombard painter of the Renaissance. The title serves to instantiate the original artist, so to speak, as the object of the perceived gaze of the model. At a recent exhibition of Lorenzo Lotto's work in the National Gallery, London, I was delighted to discover the 'original' painting there in front of me. But of course I immediately associated it with the direct address to an onlooker that is evoked in Paolini's revised version. Perhaps something similar has been taking place as I have followed the successive stages of the preparation of Luca's portrait. An original photograph (which was in fact snapped in July 2017 beside the bust of Maecenas in W.B. Yeats' Tower) has metamorphosed into: Elderly Art Historian Looking at the Former Director of the Irish Film Board. Luca's painting subsumes this new message, while providentially relocating me in the company of my old friends and colleagues.

(Copyright by Stephen Bann.  All rights reserved. 2019)


"I truly hate all pictures of myself. First I don’t recognize them; then when i do see that it is me, I am dismayed. A little like Freud when he catches sight of a nasty old guy on a train, only to discover that it is his own reflection. For Freud there is a touch of the uncanny in this doppelgänger that is himself. For me there is nothing so grand or gothic—just disappointment. Me again? Really? A bit like Gombrowicz’s diary: “Monday: me. Tuesday: me. Wednesday: me…” I do like Luca’s del Baldo’s portrait, though. Maybe because the transformation of photograph to painting allows for a state that is neither live nor dead. For me that ambiguity is essential to the image, essential to the ego. At least it is to any image or ego that I can identify with, that I can recognize. "
HAL  FOSTER , 2019
(copyright by Hal Foster. All rights reserved)


“What are you reading?” Achilles asks Ulysses in Shakespeare’s scathingly ironic Troilus and Cressida. Hoping to draw Achilles out of the tent in which he is sulking, Ulysses replies that he is reading something by a strange fellow who argues that even the best endowed person “Cannot make boast to have that which he hath” except by seeing himself reflected in the gaze of others. There is nothing strange about that argument, replies Achilles:

The beauty that is borne here in the face

The bearer knows not, but commends itself,

Not going from itself, but eye to eye opposed,

Salutes each other with each other’s form;

For speculation turns not to itself

Till it hath traveled and is mirrored there,

Where it may see itself. This is not strange at all. (3.3.103-9)

Like much of the verse is this fiendishly difficult play, the general drift is easy enough but the precise meaning needs to be teased out. It is perhaps something like this: since your eye --“Not going from itself” – cannot leave your face in order to look back and appreciate the way you appear, you can only take in your own form by reflection in someone else’s eye, in which, even as you gaze into the face of another, you glimpse yourself mirrored.

Something like this mutual mirroring seems to be occurring in Luca del Baldo’s series of portraits. Each of us sees our face in and through Luca’s painterly reflection, and at the same time, particularly by seeing so many of these images together, we see Luca, or rather we see something about how he sees the world. For, of course, we do not see the artist “eye to eye opposed.” Luca’s project is at one removed, by virtue of the photograph which we have chosen to send him. I for one—and perhaps there are others in our group as well – went to Google Images to reverse the “speculation,” as Shakespeare terms it, and to look at Luca standing in his studio surrounded by some of his portraits. But, of course, I know that I am not looking at Luca; I am looking at a photograph taken by someone else, just as mine was, so now there are at least four of us involved in the exchange of impressions. If we add the other subjects and those who took their photographs and all those who will eventually look at Luca’s whole set of portraits, we find ourselves in a substantial group, a whole society. And that was Ulysses’ whole point: Achilles’ narcissistic interest in “the beauty that is borne here in the face” can only be fulfilled if he emerges from his tent and plunges into mirroring reflections of the larger world.

Though the sly Ulysses is careful not to say so, there is absolutely no reason to believe that in those reflections the subject’s narcissism will be gratified. (Troilus and Cressida in fact depicts Achilles as a spoiled, mean-spirited, murderous wretch.) Shakespeare mused upon the problem again and again—even perhaps, if we take the sonnets as authentically autobiographical, in his own life. “Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye,” he admits in sonnet 62; “Methinks no face so gracious is as mine.” Then he looks into a mirror:

But when my glass shows me myself indeed,

Beated and chopped with tanned antiquity,

Mine own self-love quite contrary I read.

“Tanned” here does not mean glowing with health from a vacation at the beach; it means turned leathery with time, stained, mottled.

And this returns us to Luca del Baldo’s portraits. One of the notable things about his technique is the way in which skin (and, in my case, beard too) is not smoothed into flattering harmony but rather formed from the surprising, often unexpected stippling of diverse colors. If I compel myself to turn away from my fantasy version of my face and actually look in a mirror, I find, to my mingled amusement and dismay, that Luca is closer than my mind’s eye is to the truth, the truth of time.

About a decade ago a gifted Danish photographer, Torben Eskerod, took a series of haunting photographs of the photographs that are embedded in the gravestones of Campo Verano, Rome’s huge cemetery. Portrait photographs of the kind sometimes found in cemeteries seem to draw upon and reanimate the ancient Epicurean idea that the body emanates accurate images, images that, conveying exactly the way you appear, float off into the world. Fixed by an ingenious process, impressed onto metal plates, enameled and then inserted into the gravestones, the faces of the dead stare out at you, offering the irresistible illusion that they are giving you reality itself, or as close to reality as you are likely to get. Part of their interest and poignancy lies in the thought that these are the images that were chosen by the subjects themselves when they were still alive, or by their immediate loved ones just after they had died, as a way to capture forever – or for as long as forever lasts – the beauty, in Shakespeare’s phrase, “that is borne here in the face.”

But Eskerod’s photographs of the photographs capture something else: we see that the tombstone images have begun to crack, decay, and fade; many are scratched, spattered by dirt and rust, or speckled with dried flower petals; they are stained with the innumerable accidents of matter. And the effect is mysteriously, unexpectedly beautiful. It is as if time itself were trying to participate in the enterprise that Luca del Baldo has so impressively brought to fruition with my face, with all of our faces.

 Stephen Greenblatt, 

Cambridge, Massachusetts

March 19, 2019
(copyright by Stephen Greenblatt.  All rights reserved)


Luca’s portrait project is a synthesis of two of the mainstreams of European
portraiture-- the individual portrait and the group portrait. Unlike portraits of a single
sitter, group portraits were designed to express shared ideas rather than individual
accomplishments or status. Individual portraits are self-explanatory. However, group
portraits come in two formats. One of these, perhaps the most familiar, is comprised of
several figures who observe and participate in a singleevent. The other is comprised of
series of individual portraits which record the appearance of successive holders of an
office. These might include viceroys, prelates, civic officials, members of the nobility,
scholars or men of learning. One example of the many would be the series of
archbishops of Toledo, which is installed in the Chapter Room of the Cathedral of
Toledo. This series, which begins with the Portrait of San Eugenio de Toledo, (4th
century) is continued up to the present day. The result is ennui. All the compositions
show the prelates in a half-length pose, wearing ecclesiastical vestments. Little space is
left for the inventive capacities of the painter. These days, portraits in series are
commonplace and commemorate every sort of office holder. Examples include
politicians, magistrates, university presidents and CEO’s. The number is beyond
counting. All share a belief in the power of the image to evoke memory and glorify
The other option—the group portrait-- is far more challenging and accordingly
has produced a small but heady number of what can only be called masterpieces.
Velazquez’ Las Meninas and Rembrandt’s Night Watch immediately come to mind.
Other examples are Courbet’s Study and Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe. Given the
challenges they pose to a painter, group portraits have nearly died out except in the
medium of photography.
Luca’s project synthesizes these two options in an imaginative way. The
individual portraits are records of notable men and women who dwell in the realm of the
arts and letters. Gathered together between the covers of a book, they assume the
identity of group portrait. The texts composed by the sitters that accompany the portraits
conjoin the verbal and visual image in an innovative way.
Footnote: It is worth noting that the Italian humanist Paolo Giovio (1483-1552) built a
villa on Lake Como in which he housed his collection of portraits of famous people.
Unfortunately this villa was destroyed in the 17th century and the collection, lost. A set of
copies of his paintings from the collection, now known as the Giovio Series is in the
Uffizi Gallery. Five centuries later Luca del Baldo, a resident of Como, has revived this
splendid portrait project in the form of a book.

(copyright by Jonathan Brown . All rights reserved)


"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 leanin


"Portrait Time "

Before Luca del Baldo’s invitation, I hadn’t thought much about the difference between a painting and a photograph. Of course, the relationship has been exhaustively discussed in art history and criticism, ever since the first (often repeated) claim that photography would be “the death of painting.” Painting didn’t die and has even, in a sense, prevailed. Photography’s ontological claim to deliver what is, or as Barthes wrote, what was (ça a été), in front of the lens is subverted by digital manipulation. David Hockney even claims that photography is now a kind of painting, since any shape or color can be created.

Luca’s portrait-from-a-photograph combines the two different kinds of representation. And it’s a complicated performance. Where, and when, exactly is the referent? Is it still what was really there in front of the camera’s lens? Is this the portrait of an individual? A particular moment? A process of transformation?

Such questions, properly asked of any representation that makes claims to realism, are particularly tricky when “the referent” is doing the asking. I discovered this when accepting Luca’s invitation and then reacting (so far, only electronically) to successive versions of the work. The photo I chose was taken while I was speaking, last Fall, at the Festival Filosofia, in Modena. I wondered whether a photo that was clearly not posed would be appropriate. In my own amateur photography, I collect images in a file called “portraits” where the rule of inclusion is simply that an image should be in relative close-up, with its subject aware of the camera. I knew that photographs were being taken during my lecture, so what I sent to Luca qualified. In addition, its uniform background (the Festival’s signature red color) created a frame that suggested a portrait.

In any event, I liked the image because the person portrayed was not, like most of the others in Luca’s collection, looking toward the lens. The face seemed active and expressive: quizzical, even a bit hopeful.

When the first rendering appeared on my screen, I was drawn to its roughly-painted vitality. Two versions later, I still prefer it to the finished work, though I like that too. What struck me right away was the picture’s mix of closeness and distance, familiarity and alienation. (I see from others’ comments on Luca’s portraits that I’m not alone in this reaction.) The painting closely resembled the original image, but with a realism quite different from a photographic record.

It seemed to be the portrait of another person. That person, whom I’ve found myself describing as “he,” is made of paint. I was accustomed to confronting myself in photographs. Like an early morning glimpse in the bathroom mirror, they were unwelcome correctives for the imaginary self-image I normally live with. Unexpectedly, this portrait freed me from reactions based on vanity or ego. Since it wasn’t me, I could look closely. The computer’s zoom revealed how the paint had been brushed on and layered, and how pigments had been scattered in ways that subverted expectations of an objective body or a discrete shape. The colors, while flattening a spatial field, added temporal depth: evidence of making, unmaking, remaking. “Painting”—both noun and gerund.

I discovered not a person or even a moment, something captured once and for all, but instead a process, marks of transformation.

The background, which Luca tells me is a mix of Burnt Sienna, Terra di Siena brucuata, and vermillion, can be seen throughout the man’s head. His hair is streaked with red filaments. His eyelids, cheeks, nostrils, lips, and especially his neck (where the color’s thickness almost suggests blood) are all spattered with this strong color. More subtly, the blue of the shirt collar bleeds upwards into the cheeks, eyes, ear and hair, softening to a blue-grey that actively complements the background.

Patches of this bluish grey (or is it greyish blue) can be found all over the face, especially on its less-illuminated side. Here the skin (relatively smooth in the photo) appears to be gouged, or plastered. This is a surface that’s changing: built-up, adhesive, crumbling. It’s susceptible to the forces of gravity and oxidation, universal adversaries (as well as vital necessities) for any living creature. A body that both yields and resists.

Thinking about the portrait’s realism, I’m reminded of Francis Bacon’s absorbing interviews with David Sylvester in which he argues that violent deformation, rather than accurate illustration, is the way to render the real presence of someone or something. (Luca’s paintings of corpses come to mind.) A painted portrait is manifestly a picture of someone altered by time, ageing and therefore dying. It’s also evidence of animation: living and dying together.

I’m grateful to Luca for my translation into paint, for what it’s showing me about temporality and the forms of realism. But having now joined his Academy, I feel a certain melancholy. Where and when are we, this gathering of intellectuals? Our portraits look out from inside Europe and North America (once the “First World,” or “the West”). And from the late 20th Century (the time our ideas were formed).

The photo portrait I chose had seemed quizzical to me, even a bit hopeful. A friend called its expression “expectant.” The person in Luca’s painting looks worried, still expectant but no longer hopeful. Anxious inwardness and anxiety have emerged. The lines of the brow and on one cheek are deeper; a mouth that once hinted at a downturned smile is now more compressed, weighted with pigment; one eye seems, at times, to be looking in a slightly different direction from the other, unfocused. If I can’t identify with this face that looks so much like mine, I do find it interesting, Interrogative.

I recognize myself in the painting’s change of mood, a feeling that no doubt reflects my time of life with its deepening sensitivity to bodily alteration and decay. But I also feel something more impersonal at work: a historical context that subtly determines the painting and the viewing. Stuart Hall might call it, simply, “the present conjuncture,” a constellation of forces we can’t yet name. Or perhaps a “crisis” which, according to Gramsci, “consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.” “In this interregnum,” he warned, “a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

I don’t think I need to enumerate the morbid symptoms of our current situation, a time prophetically evoked by Norman O. Brown in the title of his final book: Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis. Luca’s dying/living portraits express, for me, this double transformation.

(Copyrights by James Clifford. All rights reserved)


"Meeting  sideways  in  the  Mirror"

Every so often I watch my wife doing her make-up in front of our large wardrobe-mirror, and, looking at her reflection, I feel disturbingly alarmed: the mirrored person is a stranger. My own reflection in contrast seems to radiate invariably the sturdy presence of a long-known personality; not so the familiar looking woman at my side. I even remember furtively shifting my gaze to scrutinize her facial traits in the flesh for symptoms of this haunting metamorphosis. Or have I been looking for reassurance? Anyway, the paired comparisons in front of the mirror had been a source of recurring small irritations and reconsiderations covering all the small angles of sustained matrimonial union. Luca Del Baldo's project brought these fleeting impressions and musings into sharper focus. Why does my visual identity, established by photographic techniques, appear so much less prone to mirroring-transformation? Is my face less uneven – hence less beautiful or characteristic – than my wife's? Or is it just my private self-justifying observance that does not tolerate a greater schism between reality and reflection while the dearest human at my side seems to suffer, in my incoherent perceptions, from a marked split of essence and mirrored appearance?
  Male obsessions with the dangers of mirror-inversion have a noble ancestry. Immanuel Kant addressed the riddles 1783 in his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics: "What indeed can be more similar to, and in all parts more equal to, my hand or my ear than its Image in the mirror? And yet I cannot put such a hand as is seen in the mirror in the place of its original; for if the one was a right hand, then the other in the mirror is a left, and the image of the right ear is a left one, which can never take the place of the former. Now there are no inner differences here that any understanding could merely think; and yet the differences are inner as far as the senses teach, for the left hand cannot, after all, be enclosed within the same boun­daries as the right (they cannot be made congruent), despite all reciprocal equality and similarity; one hand's glove cannot be used on the other."i — Kant could not know that his very same glove turned inside out would become a telltale exhibit of trans-Euclidean geometries. In 1827 the mathematician August Ferdinand Möbius suggested rotation in a fourth dimention to solve such incongruities.ii
  Möbius was the co-inventor of the famous 'loops' named after him that eventually were shown to be subsets of an even more enigmatic entity, i.e. the notorious Klein-bottle. In 1882 the mathematician Felix Klein described a strange piece of 'plumbing': If the ends of a rubber-pipe could be joined in such a way that they had to intersect in 3D, an object with only one boundless surface would be formed. The first illustration indeed looked like a crazy piece of sanitary installation.iii Eventually, triggered by a false, but meaningful translation of 'Fläche' into bottle, the ugly gadget evolved into a handsome apparition suitable for transdisciplinary application. In the 1960s French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan adopted the Klein-bottle to explain his eccentric views of psychic imbalances.iv From then on this spawn of pure topological reasoning has grown into a pandemic seed of higher-dimensional phantasies. Alongside of the more profound 'readings' a basic fact attracted attention: Images shifted around on a Möbius-strip or a Klein-bottle would end up in a mirrored version.
  What relevance have such vaguely esoteric excursions for the appreciation of Luca Del Baldo's enterprise in general or at least in regard of my ritratto? — In my case a delayed deliberation of the slightly hilarious circumstances ensued. I had failed to consider in time a possible inversion of my 'passport'-photo­graph in the light of arguments outlined above. On the other hand, the case of my wife's estrangement by mirroring had to be left aside. Instead I had to fit myself into the selected series of portraits whose originators may have administered similar or quite different thoughts. A few of the painterly 'counterfeit identities' were attached to Luca's communications; commentaries as well. But there was no obvious in-group debate at hand. What could save me from feeling like a partially blind passenger on a merry-go-round?
  To dare a shortcut conclusion: Facing a mirror and looking sideways at other persons became a painterly topic with the production of larger sheets of flat glas. The asymmetries of visual communication progressed from oldfashioned perspectival constructs to photography, cinema &c. But the rules of representation are no longer restricted to plain Euclidian geometry. What then might be the hidden agenda of a personality-painter like Luca? Which signals are amplified by his artistic brain-activity? Should we take the obvious brushwork of his photo-replicas for a simile of not yet specified settings hovering above the tiny tremors of quantum-fluctuations that pervade all possible communication? Modern science and cosmology suggest that we are living in a huge hologram with our senses completely attuned to such contorted conditions.v — Although I am not even a distant follower of Lacan, our prearranged convention of experts in effigie reminds me of a shifting assembly of images on/in a Klein-bottle.
(Copyright by Karl Clausberg, Hamburg - 2019)


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)

"one's being-for-others is not always comfortable, but luca has given me a personality of which i am rather proud." 

"Dear Luca :
I'm delighted and honoured. It is a really wonderful likeness, extraordinary as you did it from photographs. Thank you so very, very much. George "  (GEORGE  STEINER)


"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 Munch1 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, 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 JonOve 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). 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, 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. 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 deattributed 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 overestimated 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 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. 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 “alloportrait”. 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 selfpositioning 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 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. 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, selfportraiture, 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 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. 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. 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, 2019
(Copyrights by Mieke Bal. All rights reserved)


"Reflections on Portraits"

When I was a teenager, I was an enthusiastic amateur artist, in a realist mode, graduating from still life – I was quite good at reflections on bottles – to architectural drawings and watercolours of interiors. I never dared attempt portraits – the problem is that everyone recognizes a likeness, or the failure to achieve one. On the other hand, I was impressed by certain portraits, such as the young man by Botticelli, in the National Gallery in London, the unflattering self-portraits by Rembrandt and Hogarth, and the cold beauty of Bronzino’s Eleanora de Toledo. I was impressed above all by the portraits by Hans Holbein of the lords and ladies of the court of Henry VIII. I used to believe that these portraits and especially the preparatory sketches, which seem more spontaneous, reveal the character of the sitters, such as Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell. Perhaps I still do.

In English history, More has traditionally been a hero, while Cromwell, if not exactly a villain, has been portrayed by historians as cunning, ruthless and possibly brutal. The novelist Hilary Mantel has recently tried to reverse the two images in her recent historical novels, making More into a sadist who believes in burning heretics and may be a pedophile, while Cromwell is an ideal husband and father (in a twenty-first-century style rather than a sixteenth-century one). I don’t find the reversal convincing, thanks not only to literary evidence but also to Holbein’s portraits. Remember the famous image of Richard Nixon, the Republican candidate in the presidential election of 1960, a photograph that was used by the Democrats on a poster with the caption, ‘would you buy a used car from this man?’ (Nixon lost). In similar fashion, if the caption were ‘would you trust this man with your life?’ I would choose Holbein’s More over his Cromwell every time.

As a cultural historian, I am interested in portraits as evidence for the ideals dominant in a particular place and time and illustrated by the manner in which individuals are presented in paint; their postures, gestures, clothes (armour as a sign of upper-class masculinity, even for individuals who were never in battle, and high or low-cut dresses as a thermometer of the sexual mores of a given period). For a cultural analysis of a portrait to give the best results it should really be full-length and surrounded by objects, ‘properties’ or ‘props’ in the theatrical sense of the term but also props to identity in the sense of supports. It is fascinating to view the objects with which different kinds of sitter are associated – classical columns and velvet curtains in the age of the baroque, swords for men, fans for women, dogs (big hunting dogs for male aristocrats, puppies for their wives), deferential servants for important people, books for scholars and so on. So many devices of self-presentation, whether what they present are the sitters’ images of themselves or the artist’s image of them (not very flattering in the case of Goya’s Charles IV) or even the artist’s image of the sitter’s self-image.

Even a head-and-shoulders portrait can be revealing. Sufficient clothing is visible to give viewers a sense of the sitter’s social class and character (Does he wear a tie? What kind of necklace or ear-rings is she wearing?). The artist may insist on a particular pose, like the photographer in Hamburg who produced the image of me that Luca used as his base. In this case, I am happy to say, the artist’s image of me and my self-image are not very far apart. Thank you, Luca!

(Copyrights by Peter Burke. All rights reserved)


"What is Mine"

Barbara Maria Stafford Identity seems to have become what is currently appearing on your face. A major achievement of painted portraits, on the other hand, is the exposure of “character”—a rarely-invoked, perhaps quaint-sounding, term reminiscent of Lytton Strachey’s idiosyncratic “eminent Victorians. “ What can this strong stamp or elusive personal signature --indicating that an individual is more than the symptom of society or culture-- possibly mean today? When everything thinkable is available online or on social media: how to capture a mysterious something hovering at the outer edge of the visible? The gifted portrait painter uncovers a hidden place, the secrets of a lived life, the otherwise shrouded results of cumulative practice. This search for character [for the subject’s ability to change, adapt, evolve over time] is, I believe, a search for the subject’s trueness. Imagine it as the probing attempt to locate the mysterious something holding multiple surface tensions together. Unlike the rapid-fire taker of selfies, who does not ask what is concealed on the far side of looks, the artist detects what has been consciously or unconsciously made not merely presented. In our era of instantaneous automatic reactions—driven by the unclarity of the meaning of “identity”—how apt to be reminded of the power of slow looking, the thoughtful judgment that comes from deliberation, from the gradual unveiling of the phenomenological fragments that constitute “you. ” Perhaps as a result of the interchange and co-perception, a painting makes me feel responsible for my face, for its obstinate physicality. In contrast –both literally as well as metaphorically-- a photograph lacks volume, an existential density, the saliencies discovered by the artist’s voluntary attention and pointed out by a punctuating hand. Instead of snapping an infinite series of impulses, the portrait painter brings forward for consideration a deeper presence, an extension of our selfconceptualizion breaking out from beneath the flow of disguises. When the subject is obliged to stand or sit still, it’s amazing the character that comes out of hiding. So I thank Luca Del Baldo for showing me what is mine.
(Copyrights by Barbara Stafford. Allrights reserved)


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)


The photograph from which this portrait was created is so bland that my face now speaks to me, as the photo did not. I remember the photograph was taken in the streets in Stirling in Scotland.  I was wearing the loveliest scarf, which I managed to lose on that trip.  I am in an obscure way glad that the scarf has lost its special detail in the portrait.  What does the artist’s eye notice?  And why?

Since I am not the one who initiated this portrait, it is hard for me to comment on it, especially since I am in India, not looking at it while I dictate this response.  I have a peculiar resistance to making of me a plausible object.  A little before his death, Edward W. Said told Tariq Ali that he should get a memoir out of me because my life had been interesting.  Sixteen years have passed and I haven’t managed to put down a word!  And yet, just a fortnight ago I was overwhelmed by a request from another well-known portraitist for having me as his object.  I hope he will not ask me to write anything on what he produces.

In the 70-s, Jim Lechay wanted to paint a picture of me wearing a blonde wig.  After five sittings, he destroyed it saying it was too strong for the canvas.  I have no idea what he meant.  So, I think I will remain as inarticulate as I manage to have been in the presence of myself represented as I have always been.  But thank you, Luca.

(Copyrights by Gayatri Chkravorty Spivak . All rights reserved, 2019)


"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

"The portrait is highly evocative, and if it were of someone else, I think I could comment on it. But though it may seem strange given the life I lead, I have always preferred to be very private, and apart from necessity, would gladly remain so. That carries over to listening to my own voice, answering personal questions, writing anything autobiographical that goes beyond what is part of the public sphere – and contemplating a portrait of myself and trying to articulate the thoughts it arouses. For better or worse." (NOAM  CHOMSKY)


I sometimes reflect upon the fact that I can never see my face when I am giving a lecture. I only reflect on that condition after the lecture because during the lecture I have no face, even though, for others, I may be all face. It is not that I imagine myself faceless, but that I do not imagine anything at all. At times, I am aware that I am swaying or moving as a way to keep the words coming forth and moving out. At that point, I am more like a body in motion and the words are the verbal forms of movement. But the face is nowhere, except, of course, that it belongs to the head, and the head must try to move between page and audience, even when the audience cannot be seen (on a video or in an auditorium where the light is blinding). So it is with some surprise that I learn that I have a face when I speak, since it seems to me that the speaking comes from the lungs and from the cavity that holds the lungs, from the torso that holds the lungs, and from the kinaesthetic body that either sits or stands and so lets the whole sequence of speech move forward. The face is necessary, but perhaps only as part of an opaque cranial region, one whose main purpose is to achieve and keep posture so that this exhalation of words can take place. Of course, I know I am seen from elsewhere, but I do not see that seeing. And on those few occasions when I look at myself as others might, I recoil from the scene. If I take that point of view, I lose my speech, so I can only speak by forgetting the face that makes it possible. After all, the face belongs to you, not me, so to keep my words or, rather, to give them, I must use my face or, rather, let my face use my words. And this happens without ever apprehending it from the outside.   I am trying to get outside with my words, and they are already before me and outside me, so whatever is spoken through the mouth that edges onto the face, whose edge helps to make the face, is something I cannot grasp with sight. I could not speak watching myself. But perhaps I could and would speak with my eyes closed.

(copyright by Judith Butler. All rights reserved)

"In his lessons on aesthetics, Hegel wrote that a good portrait resembles the person it portrays more than this person resembles itself - it distills the inner truth of a person covered up by his or her accidental features. This, exactly, is what I felt when I first saw Luca del Baldo's oil portrait of myself: all the inner despairs and doubts lurking in me are there open to see. It is not a flattering portrait, but it is "me" much more than my photos. It is a "me" that I often do not like, but nonetheless a "me' that I am." 


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)


Tre cose mi colpiscono nel progetto ritrattistico di Luca del Baldo.
La prima è l'idea stessa di identificare nel ritratto, con sapienza pittorica ma anche con fedeltà al vero, il mezzo privilegiato per tessere un discorso sulla (sua) pittura. Il dominio della fotografia e la sua pretesa di verisimiglianza ha allontanato dall'orizzonte dell'esperienza comune l'aspettativa di un ritratto che sia 'eloquente' perché riconoscibile a tutti, ma anche perché dice qualcosa della persona rappresentata. Ma il progetto di Luca Del Baldo non è una forma arcaizzante (peraltro impossibile) di ritorno a 'prima della fotografia', bensì contiene --almeno così a me pare-- la domanda più difficile su che cosa possa veramente essere un ritratto pittorico dopo la diffusione universale del ritratto fotografico.

Collegata strettamente a questa è la seconda cosa che vorrei evidenziare: l'idea, austera anzi ardua, di lavorare non su soggetti in posa, ma su fotografie; e sulle fotografie che possono trovarsi in rete. In tal modo Luca Del Baldo elude il classico rapporto fra il pittore e il committente in posa: rifiuta il realismo della presenza viva in favore di un altro e più sofisticato realismo 'di secondo grado', una sorta di quid medium che la foto di un volto umano, elaborata e tradotta in pittura senza concessioni né alla fretta né alla banalità dei linguaggi, può restituire come una sorta di verità interiore, per così dire "scavata" nella fotografia dal pittore stesso. Nel suo progetto, Luca Del Baldo esalta la fotografia ponendola in luogo del modello vivo, ma insieme la respinge in una sorta di retrobottega dell'arte, perché manipolandone i dati mediante la pittura la riveste di una più intensa verità 'di natura'. Il gesto pittorico, partendo dalla fotografia, ne legittima il gioco di luci e d'ombre, ma lo dichiara insufficiente, e perciò lo traduce in una ben più sapiente sinfonia di colori.

Infine, il terzo punto è la scelta di puntare simultaneamente su due dimensioni apparentemente incompatibili fra loro: una serie di ritratti di intellettuali da lui stesso scelti uno per uno, quasi una sorta di 'ritratto di gruppo', lo spaccato di una società e delle sue forme di pensiero, ma al tempo stesso anche una galleria di ritratti individuali fortissimamente caratterizzati  (uno per uno) da uno studio puntuale, minuto, con attenzione a dettagli fisiognomici irripetibili, a fattori espressivi e a dati di carattere, insomma a quello che gli antichi Greci avrebbero chiamato l'ethos di ognuno dei rappresentati. In tal modo le persone del gruppo (che spesso non si sono mai incontrate fra loro) diventano i co-protagonisti di una larga e intensa conversazione che deborda dai margini del quadro, e sotto la regia del pittore si propone come l'imprevista istantanea di un'epoca, la nostra. Individuo e gruppo possono perfino essere in dissidio fra loro, suggerire dissensi e divaricazioni; o convergenze impensate; o discorsi in sospeso. Parole non dette si sprigionano dai volti. Volti che parlano, perché il pittore lo vuole. Parlano non solo o non tanto fra loro, ma a chi guarderà la galleria nel suo insieme. Parlano al pittore, ma anchedel pittore e del suo interesse profondo nell'esplorare, nei volti, l'animo umano."

(copyright by Salvatore Settis. All rights reserved)



Un paquet venu d’Italie m’apporte deux portraits de philosophes : l’un de Nietzsche, l’autre... de moi. Cherchez l’intrus... Luca del Baldo me fait un cadeau empoisonné ! Car il est inacceptable pour moi de me retrouver dans une galerie de philosophes parmi tant de noms prestigieux. J’ai du mal avec les images de moi. Je ne regarde jamais les films ou les télévisions dans lesquels je suis. Je n’aime pas mon image. Dès lors, mon jugement sur l’oeuvre ne saurait être objectif. Mais je dispose d’un autre critère de jugement : le portrait de Nietzsche. Je peux le regarder sereinement et le voir – le mien, je ne peux le regarder, ni le voir. L’expression « ne pas supporter, même en peinture » prend avec mon portrait ton son sens. Nietzsche m’aide à voir ce que je ne peux voir. Il n’y a aucune raison pour que le défaut dans une peinture ne soit pas dans la seconde peinture faite d’une même main. Dès lors, le défaut est dans mon oeil. Pas dans l’oeuvre. Si l’image du philosophe allemand me ravit dans sa vérité, la mienne le devrait aussi. Que vois-je dans Nietzsche ? Un cadrage d’abord, un art d’aller au vif. Le parti pris de cette distance ne pardonne pas – de quelles offenses, d’ailleurs , sinon celle de la vérité ? L’oeil, le nez, la bouche, les lèvres, les joues, les sourcils, les cheveux, la coiffure, ici une moustache, là une paire de lunettes, un fragment de vêtement, voilà autant d’occasions de dire mille choses sur un être. Le regard, la pupille, la couleur de l’iris, les cils, l’amande dessinée par les paupières ; les narines, les poils qui en sortent, les ailes du nez, la ligne de sa descente, le milieu de la figure ; l’artifice – la bacante qui cache la bouche, les lunettes qui barrent le visage ; les rides qui partent de la base du nez, celles qui creusent le front ; pour moi, les lèvres asymétriques, deux sourires en un, permanence d’un jeu entre pincement et volupté. Que reste-t-il de ces deux visages ? Un mot : « Halluciné » pour Nietzsche, mais peut-être parce que je connais la photo qui sert au portrait et que je sais qu’ elle a été faite à Weimar, une fois la folie installée dans l’âme du philosophe. Ce mot, c’est le regard peint qui le dit : creux, vide ou vidé, perdu dans une tache prune, violette, brune. Pour moi : si j’osais, « Ahuri » ! L’information étant donnée par le regard aussi : un oeil regarde le regardeur ; un autre au-delà du regardeur. Que dit le dictionnaire pour « ahuri » ? « Frappé de stupeur, surpris au point de paraître idiot ». Puis il donne ces synonymes : « abasourdi, abêti, abruti, baba, bête, confondu, déconcerté, dérouté, ébahi, ébouriffé, effaré, idiot, interdit, interloqué, médusé, pantois, stupéfait, stupéfié, troublé. » Peut-être faudrait-il aussi ajouter : un fond de tristesse dans ce demi regard perdu. Je ne sais... Que dit la matière de la peinture ? Elle manifeste la vérité du matérialisme. Le réel s’y décompose en effet en atomes de couleur, en particules de lumière, donc en vibrations chromatiques. Ce sont ce que Lucrèce nomme des « simulacres », une cohorte d’atomes en procession du sujet au regardeur pénétré par l’oeil. Ces grains d’énergie, cette force des taches rosées, ce sont les danses de ce qui fait le monde. Ici : un fragment du monde dans deux visages. Deux visages qui sont deux mondes. Finalement, ce que je ne vois pas dans mon portrait, c’est ce qu’il faut voir et qui s’y trouve vraiment. Voilà pourquoi, au pied de ma bibliothèque où j’avais posé les deux oeuvres, celle de Nietzsche à l’air libre, la mienne, tournée vers le mur, un ami a retourné le tableau qui me représente et s’est esclaffé : « Ah ! Dis donc, c’est vraiment toi... ». Puisqu’il me le disait et que Luca l’avait si bien dit, c’était donc vrai. Raison de plus pour accrocher celui de Nietzsche dans ma bibliothèque – et tenir le mien loin du regard du philosophe allemand... Peut être dans un placard ! 

(copyright by Michel Onfray. All rights reserved)


"La verità delle immagini"

Il problema dell’io che si costituisce e si costruisce di faccia al mondo e nel riflesso di se stesso nel mondo è stato a lungo al centro delle mie ricerche, tanto che ad esso ho dedicato due libri: Confini. La visibilità del mondo e l’enigma dell’autorappresentazione (1996) e negli occhi Vincent. L’io nello specchio del mondo (1998).

La rappresentazione di sé mi si è presentata enigmaticamente, come un problema su cui indagare in profondità, nella figura di Narciso. La storia di Narciso non è un mito che affonda nel tempo. Questa storia, a differenza di ogni altro mito, ha un autore. È un racconto di Ovidio che ha però toccato così profondamente l’immaginario collettivo da trasformarsi in un mito, che ha attraversato tutto l’Occidente. Il centro oscuro e al contempo abbagliante di questa storia, che la rende inaggirabile e necessaria, sta nel fatto che Narciso, l’io, il nostro io, scopre se stesso in una immagine riflessa e ingannevole e, al contempo, proprio in quesra fallacia scopre la terribile verità della morte. L’aveva detto l’indovino Tiresia, l’indovino della tragedia, che è stato accanto a Edipo e poi a Penteo e ora a Narciso: egli vivrà a lungo “se non conoscerà e stesso”, perché conoscere sé significa conoscere il nostro destino di morte. Significa conoscere ciò che ci fa uomini, vale a dire, come dicevano i Greci, ciò che rende gli uomini “i mortali” e che faceva affermare a Sofocle: “molte sono le cose che sgomentano, nessuna sgomenta più dell’uomo”.

L'amaro sa­pere che Narciso ha conquistato lo porta dunque alla terribile verità. Ciò che egli desidera è dentro di lui, ma questa ricchezza, a cui tende con ogni sua forza, "lo rende miserabile". È il sapere della fragilità e della povertà umana, che è la stessa fragilità e povertà della fronda che sporge fiorita da un albero, per poi sfiorire e morire. Questo ora Narciso sa. Sa la morte. E questa non gli pesa, perché con essa cesserà il dolore. Ma l’immagine, questa “vorrei”, dice, “che vivesse più a lungo, questa che amo. Invece due moriremo in un’unica anima”.

L’idea che un’immagine di sé possa sopravviverci è ciò può motivare la decisione di accogliere l’invito di Luca Del Baldo? Malgrado il mio interesse per la riflessione su sé ho poche immagini di me stesso, poche, pochissime fotografie. Dunque è necessario che io rifletta su cosa mi ha spinto ad affidare a Luca Del Baldo una mia immagine fotografica perché la elaborasse in un ritratto ad olio, come quei ritratti che mi hanno fissato inquietanti dalle pareti di tutti i musei che ho visitato.

Cerco di guardare nel nodo in cui si stringono motivazioni diverse. Lo scatto fotografico è un istante intransitivo, soprattutto oggi con le macchine digitali e i telefoni cellulari: è un “ecco qui” che non ha spessore, è il dominio dell’”ecceità”. Un ritratto ad olio richiede invece tempo. E molte cose capitano nel corso del tempo.

Mi ha subito catturato l’idea di un lavoro di scavo sul mio volto per trasformare la fotografia in un ritratto. Cosa avrebbe trovato Luca Del Baldo nelle lunghe ore in cui con spatola e pennelli lavorava dentro i miei lineamenti? Avrebbe scoperto qualche verità, e se l’avesse scoperta, mi chiedevo come questa sarebbe emersa sulla superficie del quadro? E poi ancora: cosa avrei trovato io guardandomi nel ritratto?

Vedendo alcuni stadi preparatori del mio ritratto mi sembra di poter dire che il tempo che ha occupato l’artista nel suo lavoro si è davvero calato sul mio volto: è diventato un mio tempo, un tempo vissuto, un tempo consumato. L’artista ha trovato tracce e ha seguito queste trecce, che sono diventate vie e sentieri, percorrendo i quali uno può figurarsi davvero quanto il soggetto lì raffigurato abbia vissuto, e dunque abbia anche patito. Le vie del tempo sono inevitabilmente anche via di patimento.

Un’altra cosa mi ha attirato di questa impresa. La galleria di ritratti, l’”atlante”, sarebbe stato una rassegna di filosofi, vale a dire di personaggi che esercitano il controllo della parola e che qui invece hanno deciso di esporsi in immagine, proprio in quelle immagini che il primo dei filosofi, Platone, aveva condannato come “imitazioni di secondo grado”, e dunque doppiamente ingannevoli. Ed effettivamente i ritratti di Del Baldo, che partono da un’immagine fotografica, sono davvero “imitazioni di secondo grado”. Sono una imitazione di una imitazione. Quello che Platone non ha mai accettato è che l’arte ha una verità, e che questa verità si situa precisamente nella tensioni di queste imitazioni che si attraggono e si respingono.

E c’è infine il ruolo di Luca Del Baldo, non solo come il demiurgo della nostra verità o del nostro narcisismo, ma in quello che egli cerca per sé in questo gioco di imitazioni. Perché un atlante di filosofi, in una sequenza che non pare destinata ai luoghi e al sistema dell’arte, ma a calarsi invece in un libro? Noi stiamo consegnando all’artista non solo i nostri lineamenti che ci torneranno nel dono del ritratto, ma qualcosa che si depositerà in un libro, un libro di immagini che si affiancherà ai nostri libri di parole. Noi gli affidiamo i nostri tratti, ma anche le parole che ci hanno reso quello che siamo e quello che sembriamo. È Luca Del baldo che ci ha scelti per il suo atlante, che forse rappresenta una sua aspirazione. Forse egli si sta trasformando in un filosofo, anche se un filosofo che lavora con il pennello. Forse il pennello è la lama con la quale egli cerca di attraversare non solo i nostri volti, ma anche le nostre parole, costruendo un percorso, un itinerarium mentis, alla verità. In questo caso alla sua verità. Sarà dunque nostro compito guardare oltre i nostri lineamenti raffigurati nel ritratto, oltre noi stessi per andare alla ricerca anche di questa verità. È questo che ci fa filosofi. Il compito non ha termine. Non è mai finito.
FRANCO   RELLA  , 2012
(copyright by Franco  Rella. All rights reserved)


Luca Del Baldo’s Portrait: On Painting from Photographs Luca Del Baldo’s portrait is remarkable. He made an intriguing choice of a photograph to use (not to mention a face to depict). And he created an intense, compelling, vibrant depiction from it. Despite my admiration, however, the portrait makes me very uncomfortable, partly no doubt because it is of me, with its unsettling combination of strangeness and familiarity, but also because the guy in the portrait is too close for comfort, even when I stand well back from the canvas! That of course is part of what makes the painting so powerful. It is a wonderful work of art. I will display it somewhere, but not over my desk. I won’t have that guy, me, constantly breathing down my neck. Beethoven’s late quartets, than which no greater music has been conceived, are also, sometimes, too much. 

 Del Baldo’s use of photographs in creating his portraits invites attention to these two modes of picture making. Much has been written comparing them, exploring similarities and differences in the manners of their production, their makers’ objectives, the nature of the results, the ways in which viewers respond to them, the uses to which they are put. I merely mention, here, what I take to be the most fundamental and most important difference: To look at a photograph of a turtle or a philosopher is actually to see it; one sees the object, indirectly, by seeing its photographic representation. Looking at a painting, by contrast, one sees only the representation, not the turtle or philosopher. Photographs are “transparent” and paintings are not. 1  This does not mean that one’s view of a turtle or philosopher, mediated by a photograph, is veridical. Often it is not. It is a mistake to suppose that photographs provide more reliable information about the world than paintings generally do just because they are photographs, or because of their “mechanical” origin. Whatever epistemological value either photographs or paintings possess depends on particular circumstances. Paintings made in a society with an obsession for accuracy or religious strictures against mis-  representation may be far more reliable witnesses to the world they depict than photographs made by cameras with flexible lenses or randomized settings. I and others sometimes fault works of art for being too “perfect,” or too contrived, for revealing too obviously and extensively the hand of the artist in their construction. We prefer, sometimes, a sense of accident or naturalness, a sense that not every detail was subject to the artist’s direct control, that some of them just happened. In other instances, however, these (different but related)flaws are not flaws at all. We prize a work’s perfection, admire the artist’s sensitivity and insight and skill in arranging every detail to best advantage, appreciate seeing her in her work, seeing what she cares about, perhaps empathizing with her or sharing her vision. The contrast between approximations of these two aesthetic attitudes is a central element of Heinrich Wölfflin’s account of the differences between painting in the classic and baroque periods. He points out that Rembrandt, in contrast to earlier artists, aims for a “semblance of hazard” in a composition, and Rubens avoids an arrangement that “would look insufferably ‘sought for’,” opting for one that is “felt … as the natural thing.”2 Photographs can go either way, and they do. But photography is especially suited to satisfying the first objective: avoiding contrivance, obscuring the role of the photographer, giving an impression of accident, a “semblance of hazard.” Many photographs are, in part, accidental. The casual photographer points and shoots, and is surprised to find in the resulting picture a seagull flying overhead or a bizarre momentary smirk on a person’s face, perhaps even a fortuitous framing of the main subject by the branches of a tree or symmetries in the picture’s composition. (Either of the latter may be a bit of “perfection” without actual contrivance.) Such features in a painting are unlikely to surprise the painter, who deliberately, in full awareness, applied every individual brushstroke. If in his picture a seagull soars overhead, that is because he put it there. If a tree neatly frames the subject, that is probably not an accident. Paintings can nevertheless give an impression of accident. But there are limits. Impressions depend partly on what viewers know or believe about a picture’s likely actual genesis. Given our realization that painters control, individually, every detail of their canvases, a striking violation of symmetry or an angle of view that partially obscures rather than frames the subject may seem deliberately designed to give an impression of accident, contrived to avoid the appearance of contrivance. Viewers of a photograph, a casual snapshot especially, are less likely to have this impression, aware as they are of how easily one can make photographs without choosing or controlling or even foreseeing many of its details. What about pictures created by a combination of painting and photographic processes? In addition to composites and touched up photographs, there are photographs of paintings—which may depict either the paintings or what the paintings depict, or both. And there are paintings from, based on, photographs, like Luca Del Baldo’s portraits. The latter category is enormously varied. (Think also of Chuck Close, and Vermeer who purportedly used not photographs but camera obscura images.) Painters use photographs in different ways. They may trace a photograph, or copy it, or just stand back taking in the photographed scene and rendering it in paint, without attending to the marks on the photographic surface, i.e. they may paint “from life,” from indirectly perceived life (however drastically their view is guided or distorted by the photograph). Del Baldo’s technique was largely the latter, I am sure; zooming in we see brushstrokes, nothing like the pixels of the digitized photograph he worked from. A photograph of a painting of a frog is transparent to the painting but not to the frog. We see the painting “through it” (i.e. indirectly), but not the frog, no matter which it is understood to depict. Paintings based on photographs, like Del Baldo’s portraits, are not transparent at all. Like other painters, those working from photographs ordinarily control every detail of their canvases, deliberately execute every brushstroke. Some of the brushstrokes might serve to avoid certain obvious contrivances, spoiling symmetries or avoiding neat framing. But they themselves are likely not to be contrived, not transparently calculated to promote an artificial sense of accident. The viewer’s impression may be that the artist merely followed the lead of the photograph, without necessarily even noticing important features of the results. A violation of symmetry, for instance, may seem to be as natural or accidental as it does in the photograph. Of course what either the photographer or the painter actually noticed or intended may not be what he or she seems to have noticed or  intended. Both artists may have meant to give viewers a sense of accident and, because this intention is not apparent, succeeded in doing so. * * * Luca Del Baldo carefully reproduced the intricate pattern of reflections in the right lens of my glasses. A painter working from directly perceived life, seeing me face to face over her easel, might well have omitted them, wanting not to detract from the face itself, not to clutter the image with presumed irrelevancies. Or she might have included the reflections, hoping to encourage the (perhaps false) impression she was not deliberately trying to focus attention exclusively on the face, but at the risk of making this objective all too evident. This is scarcely a risk for Del Baldo. One’s impression is that the reflections depicted in his portrait are simply carried over from the photograph. They inherit the casual naturalness of their predecessors in the photograph. I focus on these mostly indecipherable marks on Del Baldo’s canvas with some relief; they help me avoid making eye contact with myself. I will find a place of honor for the portrait, one where I won’t have to look at it much.
 1.   I explain this in “Transparent Pictures,” in my Marvelous Images: On Values and the Arts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

  2.   Wölfflin, Heinrich. Principles of Art History: The Problem of the Development of Style in Later Art (M. D. Hottinger, Trans.): Dover Publications, Inc. Originally published 1915. p. 134. 3

 KENDALL  L. WALTON, 2012 - University of Michigan

(Copyright by Kendall L. Walton. All rights reserved)



One of the most intriguing commissions in the history of portraiture was initiated in 1822 by Etienne-Jean Georget, a pioneering French psychiatrist who at the time was chief physician at the Salpetrière insane asylum for women in Paris. Georget’s special interest was monomania and he asked Théodore Géricault to paint portraits of individuals suffering from specific disorders ranging from compulsive gambling to a psychotic obsession with kidnapping. The purpose of these paintings seems to have been to serve as a teaching aid that would enable Georget to present the physical characteristics supposedly associated with each distinct type of mania to his students, eliminating the inconvenience of bringing an actual madman to the classroom. Already celebrated for The Raft of the Medusa, Géricault himself had suffered from a nervous disorder and is thought to have been a patient of Georget, who had achieved his own fame with his book De la folie.

Géricault made ten paintings in the series. Five have survived, the best-known being Portrait of a Kleptomaniac, which hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent. Painted rapidly and with sublime confidence, it presents a bearded man, dressed, except for a white collar, all in black and with a thatch of un-groomed dark hair. The head is set slightly off center and cocked to one side against a dark background, evoking a sense of unease. The expression on the subject’s face, and his averted eyes, suggest distraction and perhaps confusion, but the portrait conveys a sense of dignity that derives from the artist’s evident respect for his sitter and, perhaps, from the sitter’s determination to be considered worthy of that respect.

The painting’s place in the evolution of the history of the intercourse between art and natural science is not in question. That said, does it tell us anything about the nature of kleptomania as Georget had hoped? A partial answer may be found in the fact that when it was acquired by the Ghent museum in 1908 it was assigned the rather more dramatic title Portrait of an Assassin.


Almost two hundred years after Géricault made these paintings, Luca Del Baldo has embarked on a remarkable project, The Visionary Academy of Ocular Mentality, which has something in common with Georget’s concept. Like Georget, he has chosen a group of monomaniacs to be represented as portraits. Unlike Georget, he has not made his choice based on presenting unique instances of various manias, but rather has selected multiple examples of a single disorder--the compulsion to hurl oneself into the rivers and oceans of art and attempt to swim, or at least stay afloat. Critics, art historians, philosophers of art all suffer from this irreversible condition and are quite unable to prevent themselves from facing the risk of drowning in the tidal race of semiotics, or joining the skeletons washed up on the outer banks of conceptualism. If to become mad is to lose one’s mind, they seem to proclaim, then what better place to lose it than amongst the canals of 15th century Bruges, the mountain streams of Sung Dynasty China, the backwaters of 1960s SoHo, or some other available Arcadia.

Luca is uniquely equipped to portray men and women carried away by passion and delusions, having the ability to cast himself as both artist and alienist. Like Géricault, he is possessed by the urge to paint the seemingly unpaintable. His portraits of the dead and sometimes mutilated monsters of the recent past—Rasputin, Mussolini, Trotsky, Rudolf Hess, Saddam Hussein, Muamar Qadhafi and more—suggest that he might well be capable of his own Raft of the Medusa. This is equally apparent in his paintings of deceased clerics—Padre Pio, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Papa Wojtyla—always shown with the Apes of God in close attendance. More relevant to The Visionary Academy of Ocular Mentality, perhaps, is a portrait of the murdered and brutalized Pier Paolo Pasolini. It reminds us that artists and thinkers too can meet violent ends, especially if their beliefs are cut from the same visionary cloth as their art.

It’s to be hoped that none of Luca’s current subjects suffer Pasolini’s fate. They have enough to cope with without that. To begin with they are haunted by the suspicion that nobody is listening to them. This is a form of paranoia common to writers and teachers, and one that has profound consequences. As Wyndham Lewis, a paranoid of some stature, once observed, “Many great writers address audiences who do not exist; to address passionately, and sometimes with very great wisdom people who do not exist has this advantage—that there will always be a group of people who, seeing a man shouting apparently at somebody or other, and seeing nobody else in sight, will think it is they who are being addressed.”

Lewis was that rarity, a prominent visual artist who was also a gifted novelist, which reminds us that the two disciplines are not incompatible. Géricault’s paintings of the insane beckon us into a Balzacian world larded with compulsion and tragedy. I like to think of The Visionary Academy of Ocular Memory as a kind of collaborative metafiction, with visual and literary components, such as might have been conceived by Umberto Eco. It is a frittata of a narrative in which the ingredients—some savory, some spicy, some ambrosial--are bound together by Luca del Baldo’s editorial sensibility and his visionary gifts. He is a master chef who takes the choicest raw materials and permits them to express themselves, knowing that his trust will be rewarded.

(copyright by Christopher Finch. 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


"Portrait of My Portrait "

 I 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)


" 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. "

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)

Johannes   Fabian :


Why me?

Much as I am honored to have my portrait included in this illustrious assembly, my first

reaction to the title of the project was to wonder why Luca del Baldo would select me.

Beginning in the sixties, when my "discipline" had to recover from the end of classic

colonialism and reestablish its legitimacy as critical anthropology, I have argued, without

using the term, that we must overcome an ocular mentality which, had guided, albeit in

different ways, theory and method under preceding paradigms, including French and

American "structuralism." What brought me to take anti-visualist position was not theory

but praxis: research based on communication. And how did my antivisualism fit with

popular painting becoming such an engrossing project of research?

To be honest, I feel more comfortable having my portrait included a "visionary

academy? Long ago, a critic distinguished "priests" and "prophets" among social science

researchers of religion (another concern of mine). I was honored by being included

among the latter. When we ethnographers present our findings we speak out about

insights gained from communicating with those we study. For me and others, the

evidence on which we base what we have to say (or write) have been recorded exchanges

made into documents (through transcription and translation) as texts.


I called that approach "language-centered" anthropology. Then came what turned out to

be a decisive step forward – philosophically, I think of it as a dialectical move. During a

project on labor and language in Katanga I discovered the presence and importance of

certain objects in the lives of the people I studied: the presence thousands of

things/objects in living rooms, shops, and drinking places in the town where I worked.

They came in more than twenty genres (or topics) which made up what I called a regime

of memory ranging from things ancestral to things past and things present. Among the

about thirty popular painters who produced and sold their picture there was one,

Tshibumba Kanda Matulu who broke out of this regime. He defined himself as a

historian and painted the history of his country in a hundred pictures. In the years that

followed, his oeuvre was shown in several places (most recently in Documenta 14 in


A major exhibition of popular painting was shown in Vienna in 2001. The

curators invited me to give talk and here is how I reflected on the occasion in my note

book: " March 10, 01. A talk about Tshibumba's History at the ethnological museum, in

wing of the Burg, in a stuffy, airless ball-room, before 30 or 35 people -- one could not

wish for much more of a challenge when it comes to "presence and representation." The

exhibition, much criticized and poorly visited, seemed as well done as it is possible. But

it makes it clear again, everything that encourages the purely visual reception of these

objects makes them present in such a way that they lose their capacity to represent (their

makers, the events, the life of which they speak). And that gives an unexpected twist to

the problem of presence and representation. The aim (of ethnography) cannot be to

dissolve representation into presence any more than to predicate representation onto

absence. Did Said realize that the "Oriental" who is made absent in the theoretical

constitution of Orientalism by Orientalism's tricks of representation is not knowable, not

even to himself, except through representation? Must absence be aligned with (be the

condition of) representation? Is presence "representable?"

Back to popular painting in Katanga and Tshibumba's History: A key term that

was used commonly in talk about these pictures was ukumbusho, lit. something that

causes you to remember or think. As I was told many times, the academic paintings from

Lubumbashi (internationally known since the 1950s, lack that ability. But once again a

sort of dialectic tension was maintained when paintings on the walls were said to be both,

reminders of shared memories and things that served to kutengeneza homes, a verb

whose translation in my Swahili dictionary I cannot refrain from quoting: "put right,

repair, mend, put in order, arrange, correct, settle, bring to a happy conclusion, make


The portrait

Of my portrait I have so far only seen images, images of images that reached me via the

Internet. I liked what I saw and complimented the artist. But I have yet to hold the

painting in my hands, smell it, turn and weigh it before I put it up on a wall to

kutengeneza our home. As to what it will do then, the list of meanings I quoted should

give us ample food for thought.

(Copyright by Johannes Fabian . 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)

"La Metapittura di Luca Del Baldo"

Noi conosciamo la storia dell’arte in massima parte attraverso le fotografie. André Malraux aveva colto l’enorme importanza della riproduzione fotografica che permette di accedere ad un museo immaginario, comprendente le opere d’arte di tutto il mondo.

Luca Del Baldo rovescia l’approccio di Malraux: con lui non si procede dall’opera d’arte alla fotografia, ma all’inverso dalla seconda alla prima. C’è qualcosa di paradossale e di perturbante nel suo programma, perché il quadro è a sua volta fotografato e perfino messo in internet.

Quest’operazione apre due problematiche: la prima riguarda il confronto tra le due immagini. Qual è l’originale? Si può dire che una fotografia sia “originale”, se la sua essenza è – come ha spiegato Walter Benjamin – la possibilità di una riproducibilità tecnica illimitata? Certo no. L’originale è solo la visione oculare del fotografo nel momento in cui ha scattato la foto. Essa sta nel suo occhio in quel preciso momento: può la tecnologia fornirci questo “originale”?

Il secondo aspetto inquietante del progetto di Del Baldo è il procedimento di mise en abîme che esso scatena. Infatti, la sequenza fotografia-quadro-fotografia è virtualmente inarrestabile: essa può ripetersi all’infinito, dando luogo a una serie di copie delle copie ognuna delle quali è differente dalla precedente. Le due nozioni di ripetizione e differenza si rivelano perciò connesse tra loro. Il rapporto che si stabilisce tra le immagini è pensabile attraverso la nozione di transito, come passaggio dallo stesso allo stesso. Il carattere perverso di tale processo è chiaramente espresso nella prefazione alla terza edizione del mio libro Transiti. Filosofia e perversione (Roma, Castelvecchi editore). Tutto in fondo si riconduce a ciò che Hegel chiamava il cattivo infinito (das Schlecht-Unendliche): un processo che non si arresta mai e nel quale la contraddizione non è mai sciolta in un’affermazione.

Esiste dunque un’affinità profonda tra l’operazione di Del Baldo e il mio lavoro filosofico nel quale hanno giocato un ruolo essenziale due concetti: la negazione dell’originale, implicita nell’idea di simulacro (vedi La società dei simulacri, Mimesis 2011) e in quella di mise en abîme che costituì l’argomento del mio primo libro (Il metaromanzo, 1966).

(Copyrights by Mario Perniola. All rights reserved)


"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 c



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)