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
T.J. CLARK , 2018
(copyright by T.J. Clark . All rights reserved)
ARTHUR K. WHEELOCK Jr. :
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)
HAL FOSTER :
"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)
Stephen Greenblatt :
“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.
March 19, 2019
(copyright by Stephen Greenblatt. All rights reserved)
JONATHAN BROWN :
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.
JONATHAN BROWN , 2019
(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.
DAVID CARRIER , 2010
(copyright by David Carrier. All rights reserved)
To encourage me to write a piece, Luca del Baldo kindly sent me some examples of writings by his other sitters. I recognized many of the strategies that had passed through my own mind as I wondered: ‘What does an art historian do when asked to write about a portrait that is undertaken as a portrait of a thinker or a writer?’.
As it happens, in my capacity as feminist writer on art, I have pondered a very specific question. What are the visual tropes that are available to signify the conjunction of the terms woman and thinker, let alone and creative artist. Feminist studies long since identified the profound correlation between image and woman, which is not only commonplace in our popular culture but has its roots in the art theory of the sixteenth century.
In a series of brilliant articles the American art historian Mary Garrard analysed two remarkable self-portraits: one by Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625) of Cremona in and another by the Roman painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656). Both play a subtle intellectual game with the viewer. Anguissola paints a picture of a painter at work on a canvas. The painter is a man, Bernardino Campi, who is named in the title. Thus we have a portrait of a painter at work. This is signified by the painting before his on his easel , the image of a woman on the canvas, and both his posture and gesture. The canvas bears, however, the image of a noble woman, the presumed sitter whose exquisitely embroidered robe he is currently painting although he has turned from the canvas to look across his shoulder, out of the picture space, at the dress of the imagined sitter. Yet the author of this painting of Bernardino Campi painting a beautiful woman is, in fact, the beautiful noblewoman herself, namely the painter Sofonisba Anguissola. Why, however, would one artist paint another artist painting her in such a way as to place her self-image in the imaginary space of another’s artistic creation?
Careful analysis of the distribution of luminosity versus shadow and the different intensities of the painted gazes allows Mary Garrard to argue that Anguissola is negotiating, by means of this double portrait, the complexity of her position as aristocrat, woman and painter—already a novel but not impossible configuration in the mid-sixteenth century. More Importantly she is cleverly playing back to her imagined audience aspects of contemporary art theory. That theory held that the most beautiful form of painting as the formulation of beauty is the painting of a beautiful woman. Can Anguissola represent her quality as an artist by demonstrating her own ability to produce this equation through her skill as a painter while reclaiming, at the same time, the more significant role as the creator of beauty, the artist, reducing the masculine artist Campi to being the product and image of her creativity.
In the painting now labelled Self Portrait as La Pittura (London: Royal Collection, 1638-9), Gentileschi also played back to the contemporary artworld a similar entanglement of image, iconography and the problematic position within both of the woman who makes art. ‘La Pittura’ is the allegorical figure of painting or image. According to Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia, La Pittura is to be represented as a woman with dishevelled and wild hair ( inspiration) in a beautiful multi-toned dress of scintillating colours, with a necklace bearing an image of a mask representing imitation, at work with a palette and brush. She should also have a bridle on her face covering her mouth to indicate the muteness of painting.
Gentileschi dispenses with that silencing gag; but she conforms to all the other requirements. As a result in older, sexist times that is until 1962,, the image hung in the Royal Collection as an anonymous representation of this allegory. Then cleaning revealed the signature linking the painting to Artemisia Gentileschi also known as Lomi, who had come to the court of Charles I to work with her estranged father Orazio. Once art historians looked harder at this work and bothered to study Gentileschi’s considerable oeuvre it became clear that the artist had used her own features, disrupting the allegorical by claiming for the image of painting as a woman, an image of a woman painting. Using her features does not make it a Self Portrait because this device is more complex.
Garrard places this work in conversation with Velasquez (1599-1660), Las Meninas (1656) as examples of grand painterly statements by seventeenth century artists asserting, to their royal patrons, the importance of the painter. The artist no longer perceives her or his worth in terms of being a royal servant or of being the vessel of a divine spark. Instead, Garrard argues both paintings assert the correlation of art with work, with a special kind of work, however, artistic work which can only be represented by both the exercise of material making and the invention of the image as the paradoxical object that is both product and image of production.
Gentileschi’s problem is different from that of Velasquez, who shows himself creating the image of the very sovereign power he is quietly contesting by representing his gaze observing his sitters in order to create an image neither his sovereign nor his viewers can see, even as this painting makes him the de-centred subject of this vast work.
Gentileschi had to negotiate an ideology already inside the image itself, which could and did indeed collapse image and act so as to efface the creative woman in her image for many centuries to come.
Unlike the many essays I have read of men who have been portrayed, who symptomatically struggle with the exercise of looking at images of themselves, my conversation with Luca del Baldo in relation to his portraits of me involve a different relation between my gender and the image as well as a different iconographical and semiotic relation between woman and intellectual. One of my projects, many years ago, solicited by an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery of Self Portraits by artists who are women, was a rambling exploration of the problem of the missing iconography in western art of woman as intellectual, let alone as creative artist. The woman as intellectual does not have what the artist has at her disposal: the means to refashion the existing iconography, not always successfully in terms of recognition as I have suggested in the case of Gentileschi’s doubly misnamed painting. (First it was just La Pittura, now it is Self Portrait as La Pittura: neither catches what is really going on and no title could name the disruption that is being performed).
I sent Luca two photographs, first one and then he requested a second one to do a second portrait. Something in the first felt not quite right. The first was a snapshot taken by my daughter as I sat at my desk turning away from my computer. I like this image because of the intensity of the gaze. Was that possible between two women both of whom are acutely aware of the conventions by which women are represented? When you have a passport photo taken you are required not to smile, not to open your mouth to look straight ahead. We know what kind of horrors that formulation can produce. Now face recognition technology used in passport control requires the same expressionless offering of the face to the inhuman look of the digital scanner. The other image was a commissioned portrait photograph taken several years later in which lighting and background produce the falsity of the formal look. You stand sideways on, head slightly cocked and avoid beaming smiles that crinkle up the eyes while having to soften the face with a hint of a warmth in an incipient smile. The second photograph, the older version, betrays a surprising sense of uncertainty, a shadow of the anxiety of offering oneself to this process of having an image taken. It becomes a performance of a certain ‘femininity for the camera’, whereas the earlier image has a directness, frankness, even a certain intensity delivered because it is less self-conscious. The difference between the two, as I read them as a feminist analyst of the image, is a difference between an image of a gaze and an image offered to a gaze. In this case the forthright gaze, intensified by the close crop excluding the cluttered background of my study becomes the visual signifier of intellectual activity.
In the age of the philosophes of the Enlightenment, a different iconography was generated for the new secular intellectual. Louis-Michel Van Loo (1707-71) painted Encyclopaedist Denis Diderot (1713-84) in 1767. Wigless, in a wonderful purple silk dressing gown Diderot sits at a desk, quill in hand, poised above the paper on which he is writing. He has paused in mid-stream to look up but away from the painter, as if absorbed in inner thoughts, a condition further indicated by his left hand raised and almost pointing to the invisible point of the gaze the thinker processing the thought that will soon be set down on the paper. Closer to home (art that is) Anton Maron (1733-1808) portrayed the founder of art history, Vatican library Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68) also in 1767. His indoor robe is even more glorious—an enviable salmon pink, fur-lined silk robe with an almost matching turban to warm his hairless head. He, too, is at his desk, quill in hand, resting on his manuscript. He is studying and writing about an engraving of Emperor Hadrian’s beloved, Antoninous. He has stopped writing to look out, his gaze directed at the point at which the painter once and the viewer now stands. As if opening the conversation, his left hand is also ‘talking’ with its open demonstrative gesture. Both of these portraits locate the visually gorgeous in the accessories—the costume—while gaze and hands indicate thought or analysis. The intellectual also has attributes of work: the materials for setting down thought— writing—and in the case of the art historian as intellectual, he is given the object of both analytical (and erotic) gazing. Winckelmann’s outward gaze is a steady as Diderot’s is inwardly activated by being shown as outwardly distracted from the immediate world of things.
In neither of my portraits are there the tools of my trade nor the objects of my professional activity. Neither are there any devices such as we see in Anguissola’s or Gentileschi’s calculated artistic gambits that undo the dominant ideological tropes that render their gendered creativity invisible even as they might become the sign of the visible image as woman. What you are seeing then in these two images is not the visual sign of GRISELDA POLLOCK, an author name, a name associated with the spines of books or academic citation. But then what relation is she to a woman sitting in her study being photographed by her daughter, or a woman being professionally photographed for her university’s compensatory, patronising, possibly reparative exhibition of ‘Women of Achievement’. We form a gallery in the great Parkinson Court of the University of Leeds in a context where the Council Chamber like so many academic institutions surround the room with portrait after portrait of the men who have run the world for ever. None of them smile shyly. They are stern and steadfast to a man. It is a confusing situation. Be visible under a rubric that sets you apart as the exceptional ‘Women of Achievement’ or remain invisible. Of course things are changing and there are portraits of Vice Chancellors who are women. There are even portraits of women as political leaders. But there again we find the problem. A Man in a suit is the Prime Minister or President. The Woman in her suit is an object of press trivialisation and comment for the price of the suit or the shoes, the designer, the style: in a word fashion and attractiveness.
I think Luca likes the second portrait better as it is probably a more’ human’ portrait. For me the originating photograph is pierced by complexity and political unease. The composition of the first portrait feels bolder because there is so little space around the face to contain the figure. It is a portrait that relentlessly brings the viewer face to face with… just that a face, but also a head, without the body, with little flesh or fleshiness, with look that that signifies more closely what I do: look, study, analyse, examine, closely. As an image of an art historian, it does not create the kind of additional signs that we find in Maron’s image of Winckelmann. It embodies the act of intense attentiveness in a gaze that matches the incoming look at it as a painting. The effect of the older portrait now comes to me as quizzical, with a hint of the first image in the liveliness of the look. But scale, setting and the wonderfully rich painterly realization of skin tones and the signs of time and laughter written on the face make an image that is more containable as a portrait of a woman, mature, solid, direct. Yes, indeed. But the intensity of the earlier portrait with its frontality, its leaning forward to meet the incoming look of the spectator and the focus of the image in the eyes speaks to me as an art historian wondering how images can loosen the bond between concept of the feminine as that which is looked at and fashions itself to be looked at, and, on the other hand, the concept of the thinker, the intellectual, the writer who is not only a woman but a feminist, a woman who professionally interrogates such questions.
I am glad there are two images. I am happy to have had this (one-sided) conversation with this remarkable painter.
One final comment. Some years ago, in 2002, in a curious twist of time I returned to Florence/ Firenze for the first time since 1964, the year my mother tragically died very young. The journey was heavy with that memory of a summer of sun- and art-filled mourning. For reasons that cannot be explained I had come equipped in 2002 on this return with paints, paper and brushes and with the intention of painting the Tuscan landscape. Thus I took up painting, untrained but probably inspired by what I call painting-envy, having spent so many decades analysing and explaining and teaching generations of fine art and art history students to ‘see’ painting. After sating myself visually on olive groves and lavender fields, I continued to paint when I returned home. Now I turned to memory rather than te world outside. I drew on the family’s photo album discovering a r treasure trove of images created by doting parents of tiny, now grown, children. As an art historian who had studied long and written many times on the work of the nineteenth century Paris-based American painter, Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), I found myself in renewed dialogue with that painter’s attentive study of the strange qualities of the infant and child as ‘becoming-humans’. It was Cassatt who had noticed how strange and different babies and small children are compared to adult’s in terms of bodies, faces and their gestures. As a painter, I was infected with Cassatt’s scrupulous attention to their unformed faces and soft uncoordinated differently proportioned bodies as much as their perplexed or inquiring gazes at a world as yet dimly understood. I was not, however, as was Mary Cassatt, observing the living, wriggling child before her as model. My sources were already stilled by photography, which means, in many cases, they were captured looking directly at the photographer, being photographed.
My home is now filled with the awful products of this obsession. This means that the imaginary creatures look at me and at any visitor with the relentless gazes of many eyes. Indeed, when visiting my house, the curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev commented specifically in this curious effect of being looked at from every wall. This is the effect of my translation of what is normal, of course, in a photograph, but disconcerting when it is re-materialized into the conventions of painting. The gaze of the photograph is a transaction between something offered to a photo-mechanical gaze even if there is a photographer behind the camera. The gaze in the painting is produced by an observation searching through the artistically trained eye for the details that, if faithfully followed or materially registered will construct an image that is rebuilt stroke by stroke, wash by wash, passage by passage. Thus painting from photographs which formally also ‘build’ a picture means painting a stilled, freeze frame rather than watching the unstable living other over time to distill a composite ‘sense’ of this other in one’s own pictorial mode.
Perhaps this explains my love of the first image from which Luca del Baldo painted his first portrait. It has that same strange starkness that comes from the original photograph. It is something I reproduce in my paintings, seeking to see if the process of painting, another form of prolonged looking can pierce the momentary flash (archaic idea I know) that ‘took’ the photograph and take us closer to the presence that the eyes alone reveal in a human face.
What are these coloured orbs? What is it they do in a face? The great and genuine portraitist finds her or his sitter in every feature, every trace of time written on the skin, every jut of the jaw, every curl of an ear, every, fall of the hair, every swell of the nostrils. The person is the face as a whole. For me, because these features in children are so softened and formless, it is the eyes that that indicate the person already present even in an immature and changing form. So it is that the first portrait remains strange but wonderful, while the second, a real portrait, remains estranged from me. This replicates my feeling about the two photographs from which both are taken. The second portrait tells more of what I look like perhaps, while the first in its abrupt present-ness and direct gaze battles against the conventions of representation, ideology, tradition posing the question of what is good as art and what is good when it breaks through the deepest relations between art and the visual politics of gender.
(copyright by Griselda Pollock. All rights reserved, 2018)
ARTHUR C. DANTO :
In consequence of luck and longevity, I have had three overlapping careers. The first career, that of an artist, was facilitated by the circumstance of serving as a soldier for nearly four years in World War II. The experience helped straighten out the muddle of my youth, but practically, I benefited from the GI Bill of Rights, under which I had four years of free tuition in whatever university that would have me. In Detroit, where I grew up, culture was embodied in two white marble buildings, the main library of Detroit, and, across Woodward Avenue, the Detroit Museum of Art. Wayne University was a constellation of buildings behind the library. But for as long as I can remember, I wandered the galleries of the various collections, and decided early on that I would be an artist, so really, the DIA, as it now is called, gave me my education. The art program at Wayne in those years was fairly bland, but the remarkable collection of German Expressionist art, and particularly the prints made by Schmitt-Rothloff, Kokoshka, Pechstein, Nolde and the others, were my texts. I began to carve the end-pieces of fruit boxes, and taught myself pri