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 print-making. I did some painting but I had no gift for color. I did, however, show the woodcuts at a gallery on West Grand Boulevard. And I submitted my prints to national and international exhibitions, which landed them in important collections.
I completed my education in two years, since I was given credit connected with my military service. I had learned French in Morocco, Italian in Italy, where I made the landings near Battipaglia before being taken in trucks to Naples. The Germans had moved out, but forced a battle in Monte Casino. I had two years remaining on the GI Bill, so I decided to move to New York and - this is characteristic of my life - I decided to use the time to study philosophy. As an artist, I had little difficulty finding galleries in New York, and Columbia accepted me on probation, since I had not been able to take the introductory course in philosophy at Wayne. I also applied to NYU (New York University), which turned me down unless I took sixteen hours of undergraduate work. Naturally I chose Columbia despite the probation, though I have to admit that I was pretty much at sea. As there was little likelihood of becoming a professor anyway, I learned what I could, meanwhile building my art career. I thought I would probably wind up an art teacher somewhere, though my work was bought and shown and reviewed.
I studied with Suzanne Langer, the author of Philosophy in a New Key. Her mentor, Ernst Cassirer, who had come to Columbia as visiting professor, died abruptly in front of the Faculty as he turned to answer a student?s question, and the department appointed Suzanne to finish his courses. She was attractive and European, and entered the classroom with a cello. I wrote a paper on Kant?s Third Critique for her, which she liked a great deal. But the department was not especially supportive of her, since she was a woman. Male professors of no great distinction said that women were just not able to do philosophy. But in truth, I must admit, I could see very little connection between the philosophy of art as written by philosophers down the ages, and the great art that was displayed in the few galleries that promoted Abstract Expressionism - Betty Parsons, Sidney Janis, and Samuel Kootz - were the main sponsors. In April, 1949, there was an article in Life magazine on Jackson Pollock, whom it implied was the greatest living artist. That article was what drew me to New York. I decided to superimpose Pollock's style on the German expressionist style I had adopted. But I found that I had a gift for philosophy, and began to publish articles in Mind, The Journal of Philosophy, the Review of Metaphysics etc. I wrote a worthless dissertation. I wanted to do a piece of real philosophy, but I was not yet up to that. I certainly had no interest in writing on aesthetics, since it had so little to do with the art that engaged me. I got interested in the philosophy of history, and applied for a Fulbright Fellowship in the first year that they were offered, and won a year in Paris, where I naturally got interested in Existentialism. Paris was pretty much the same as it was entre les deux guerres. Naturally, I wore a beret.
Meanwhile, the universities, which expanded to accommodate veterans, were hiring teachers, and I was able to find a job at the University of Colorado. I found two recently hired philosophers, Christopher Jackson, who was a student of Gilbert Ryle, and John Nelson, who was a student of Norman Malcolm, a student of Wittgenstein. I learned analytical philosophy from them, which I knew nothing about from the classes at Columbia. That really was my philosophical education, since Malcolm sent us mimeographed copies of the Blue Book, the Brown Book, and the Mathematical Notes by Wittgenstein, and we studied these together.
Unfortunately, the job lasted only a year. The veterans had run out, which coincided with a generation of students born at the height of the Depression. Back in New York, I completed my dissertation, and had a piece of exceptional luck. I met one of my professors, Justus Buchler, in the book store, He offered me a job teaching in the great general education course, Contemporary Civilization. I phoned my wife, Shirley Rovetch, who had stayed in Detroit, to tell her that I had a job at Columbia. She told me that she was pregnant. Any job was precarious until one had tenure, but I jammed my foot in the door and received tenure in 1961. We took our two daughters, Elizabeth and Jane, to Paris. France was at war with its colony, Algeria. Sometimes the Seine carried the bodies of Algerians, killed by the OAS (The Secret Army Organization) who also blew up buildings around St Germain, and began to use torture in Algiers. It was no place for children, so we drove south to the Cote d?Azur, where we found a marvelous villa on the Escalier de la Gendarmerie. I wrote my first book, Analytical Philosophy of History there Once finished with that, we moved to Rome, where we found an attico on the Via Fogliano. I spent time in the German Library, reading the bound volumes of Nietzsche's correspondence. which led to my second book, Nietzsche as Philosopher. Both books were published in 1965. I loved writing books. At the meeting of the American Philosophical Association, someone asked if I was really publishing two books. He said he supposed they were anthologies, and I answered that they were real books. I felt that the era of articles was coming to an end.
But In 1964, I wrote an essay, "The Art World". It raised but hardly answered the question of the difference between art works and real things, if they look indiscernible. The question arose with Andy Warhol's show at the Stable Gallery, which consisted of copies of grocery boxes, and most particularly the Brillo Boxes, which captured my imagination. That essay changed the direction of aesthetics, but I was not to write further on the subject until 1978, the year Shirley died.
The mid-sixties was a very productive time, roughly my forthieth year, which the ancients considered the prime of life. I decided to carry forward a somewhat Hegelian agenda: to write a five volume work on analytical philosophy. The unifying concept was that of representation. Analytical Philosophy of History introduced what I termed "narrative sentences". They accounted for the difference between stages of culture - between the Age of Enlightenment and Modernism - though there was nophysiological difference between persons in the Eighteenth and Twentieth centuries. But I also developed a philosophy of action and a philosophy of knowledge. The fourth volume would be on art and the final volume on mind. So when I entered the Stable Gallery, my head was full of advanced philosophy, by contrast with any art historian in the world. By time I was ready for my book on art, I was tired of what was happening in analytical philosophy. I called my book The Transfiguration of the Commonplace, a title I encountered in a novel by Muriel Spark. Basically it advanced a definition of art as an embodied meaning. It became a base for a whole new way of thinking, and has been translated into seventeen languages.
The Transfiguration brought another piece of luck. Betsy Pochoda, who had returned to the Nation magazine, after a stint at Vanity Fair. The Nation is the oldest magazine of opinion in the United States, and from the beginning published art criticism. Frederick Olmstead, the visionary designer of Central Park, was one of its first art critics. Clement Greenberg wrote for it in the Forties. But the critic, Lawrence Alloway, had gotten sick, and no one replaced him. When Betsy returned, she was bent on Lawrence, and asked around for suggestions. Ben Sonnenberg, the editor of Grand Street, suggested me. Betsy phoned one day, and invited me to write about art for the magazine. I had never thought of writing criticism, but of course I said "Yes!" I reviewed a wonderful show at the Whitney Museum: "Blamp! New York Art 1957-1964" and Betsy murmured "What a thrill!" when she read it. It was great to be paid for writing, and for prompt publication. I was the art critic for the next 25 years.
Most critics in New York were extremely conservative. John Canaday and Hilton Kramer at the New York Times were savage. Time Magazine hissed at Jackson Pollock. My interest was in the new, as in the movements of the Sixties: Fluxus, Pop, Minimalism, and Conceptual Art, after which movements more or less vanished, and the interest turned to single individuals who were thought to be promising. My interest was in explaining the new work, which brought an art-world readership to the magazine. I loved being a critic, and feel that the essays I published, combined with the Transfiguration of the Commonplace, is what I shall be remembered for when I am gone.
If one lives long enough and has a bit of luck, everything works out. A distant colleague in the American Society of Aesthetics, Ewa Boltuc, a Polish aesthetician, is a print collector as well as a philosopher. She spotted one of my prints for sale on the Internet, and wrote me about it. I invited her to stop by when she next came to New York. Ewa was very taken with the work, and, as a woman of action, organized an exhibition at the museum at her university in Springfield Illinois. That is not far from the University of Illinois, whose director, Randy Auxier, went to see that show, and decided that his museum must have it. All that took place in 2010. Randy felt that some of my work should be printed in the forthcoming book, The Philosophy of Arthur C. Danto. I at first resisted, arguing that the art had nothing to do with philosophy. But in the end, I came around. In 1962, I had dismantled my studio, and devoted myself to philosophy and later to criticism. But the director of the collection at Wayne State asked me to make a gift of my woodblocks, which had been gathering dust for half a century. I gladly donated them. I certainly have neither the strength nor the drive to do art any longer. But it is part of what I am, along with the rest.
For some while, I have been in correspondence with Luca Del Baldo, a remarkable artist. In fact I believe him to be the greatest portraitist in the world. He did an astonishing portrait of me, and all who saw it were astonished.He has now undertaken to do portraits of philosophers of art, and publish these portraits in a book, to accompany an exhibition. I have seen several of the portraits by now - of David Carrier, Hans Belting, Richard Shusterman, and Lydia Goehr. All of these have captured their expressions beyond the possibility of photography.
I am thrilled to have been witness to this outpouring of great painting, and I would like to do what I can to give his work the recognition it deserves. Whoever sees these heads, luminous with truth, will acknowledge Del Baldo's exception gifts.
ARTHUR C. DANTO, 2011
(copyright by Arthur C. Danto. All rights reserved)
W.J.T. MITCHELL :
Portrait or Self-Portrait?
My first impression when I unwrapped Luca Del Baldo’s wonderful oil portrait of me was completely divided: the face was mine, but the expression felt unfamiliar.
Every detail of the portrait seemed to me accurate. The Italian painter’s fine, careful touch had captured every blemish, every wrinkle and fold of aging skin, every stray wisp of thinning, graying, mussed-up hair. Even the two little dark spots on the left side of my forehead had been faithfully reproduced. Everything that too many years of sunshine had imprinted on my fair Irish complexion had been snared by the keen eye and hand of the painter.
But what was strange or uncanny about the expression? It was an entirely faithful rendering of the photograph that I had sent to Luca Del Baldo. And that photograph was in a certain technical sense a self-portrait, or what the contemporary jargon refers to as a “Selfie.” That is, I had composed it carefully on the screen of my aptly named “iPhone.” When I was satisfied with my expression, I saved the picture and sent it off to Luca. My double take at the painting then, was registering a dissonance at the level of authorship. Was it a portrait? Or a self-portrait? Clearly it is both. The painting is a portrait, but the image reproduced from the photograph is a self-portrait. And that is precisely what is disturbing about it, for I read the expression (now rendered in gorgeous oils) as one of composure, complacency, confidence, and (in my darkest moments) a kind of smugness. It is, in other words, an expression of someone who has conquered his own doubts, and achieved a kind of triumphal assurance about life.
Of course nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that I am constantly beset by doubts, second thoughts, secret questions and private fears. Luca could not possibly know any of this. He based his generous offer to paint my portrait on my reputation as a writer and scholar. We have never met face to face. In a way, his picture is of a writer’s mask, a persona constructed carefully by the agonizing work of arranging words on a page until they seem to capture a truth, convey an insight, or tell a compelling story. It is thus uncannily appropriate that it is a painting based on a Selfie, of a composed self-image. It is not “painted from the life,” but from a carefully constructed façade.
George Bernard Shaw says somewhere that “every man over forty is responsible for his own face.” But does this apply to portraits? Or to self-portraits? Luca del Baldo’s beautiful painting is both. I will treasure it in some not very public place, where it will be my secret answer to the portrait of Dorian Gray. As I age into decrepitude, I will gaze at it to remind myself of how the magic of oil paint on canvas can sparkle with vitality, and how, for just a moment, I managed to project a calm air of clairvoyance. Or perhaps the more precise word would be acceptance, a resignation to the tragic death at age 38 of my son, Gabriel Mitchell, which occurred around the time this painting was commissioned. This seems to me visible in the eyes, which I recognize as my own. What does this picture want? Nothing, really. It has everything it needs, for as long as it lives.
W. J. T. MITCHELL, 2014
(Copyrights by W. J. T. Mitchell. All rights reserved)
M I E K E B A L :
Allo-portraits: Collaboration Between Mirror and Mask
I see all people behind their masks. Smiling, peaceful faces, pale and silently hurrying along a weaving road where its end is the grave. Edvard Munch 1
Does a portrait present us with the person depicted – a ‘likeness’? That remains to be seen. The portrait is a classical genre. The genre of portraiture is usually discussed without reflection on the affiliated genre of the self-portrait. I will argue that in the fissure between these two, we can see the most characteristic feature of both: the presence of otherness. The term “allo-portrait” can thus be deployed to think about both. They are equally strongly anchored in the representation of a face. What allo-portraits have in common is the questioning confusion of self and other – a confusion conducive to thought. This is the basis of their philosophical relevance. That variety alone undermines the humanistic certainties regarding the face, its depth, and its individual uniqueness. Many portraits are self-portraits, and some of the greatest artists – Rembrandt, Munch – are near-obsessive self-portraitists. Yet, there is one key difference between the two genres: the primary tool of the self-portrait is the mirror, which is entirely irrelevant in portraiture. Portraiture, on the other hand, is based on what the artist sees. This may be the friendly face of someone he or she knows, but it may also be, and has often been, the way the sitter wishes to be immortalized. That is, at least, the premise of most studies of the portrait. Perhaps the last classical account of this classical genre is Richard Brilliant’s 1991 book on the subject, which entirely rests on those premises that the twentieth century portrait has vehemently rejected.2 Edvard Munch, in the scribble that is my epigraph here, sees the portrait more as a mask – which is hiding, rather than revealing, whatever “essence” – personality or character – a person might possess. In accordance with my view that later art “remakes” older art, in the sense that the latter cannot be seen without the screen of the former modifying what we see, contemporary or more broadly, modern art changes the portrait, even the much older instances of it. In an essay that is crucial for the understanding of modern portraiture, Ernst van Alphen distinguishes portraiture from common presuppositions. One of those is the affiliation, in classical depictions, with royal, noble, and bourgeois self-importance; another is the mimetic or realistic presupposition, the idea of likeness; a third is the idea that portraits capture a person’s essence. Van Alphen alleges many important portraitists from the twentieth century who all, in different ways, undermine these classical notions. Instead, as the final sentence of the essay has it: “Portraiture as a genre has become the form of new conceptions of subjectivity and new notions of representation – a genre that does not take its assigned place in history but embattles what history has naturalized” (2005: 21-47).3
But what is it that history had naturalized, but shouldn’t have? A discussion of the authenticity – or not – of self-portraits by Rembrandt in the double-voiced catalogue with the exhibition Rembrandt / Not Rembrandt, held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1995 in New York, sheds light on the relationship between portraiture and self-portraiture on the basis of the concepts van Alphen and the artists he discusses, emphatically reject. Some of the paintings included in the Rembrandt exhibition were self-portraits. The discussion of these demonstrated that the definition of that genre, as all genre definitions, affects judgments of value and decisions of attribution, of authenticity. Briefly put, the “self” of the face and the “self” of the hand are merged, as if they were of a single interest. There lies the presupposition I would like to use as a wedge. For example, in volume II, curator Walter Liedtke wrote about a beautiful selfportrait from 1660: “Rembrandt here reveals an extraordinary ability to describe physical qualities (which presumably were studied in a mirror) and simultaneously to suggest character” (1995: 76). This statement nicely sums up what the standard view of self-portraiture stipulates as features of the genre: description as mode, mirror as tool, and self as subject, the last being conceived as character, inner self, or personality, readable in facial features. What passes unnoticed is the theory of the face this implies.4
Van Alphen’s view that the modern portrait corresponds, rather, to new conceptions of subjectivity can be taken to allude to, or at least, to include Lacan’s famous brief but crucial explanation of the function of the mirror-stage in the formation of subjectivity. Rather than bringing the viewer or painter closer to the self, the mirror alienates from the self. Distance, reversal, and, most of all, seeing your own face as other, produce the estrangement that makes full subjectivity possible. In other words, the authenticity debates are based on the pre-mirror stage, the pre-symbolic imaginary. Genres consist of the self-evident definitions people “think in” or “live by” rather than of well-theorized categorizations. (Self-)portraiture is no exception. Because we think we know what a portrait is, we don’t question the notion of whether there is enough theoretical substantiation for such a category. 5
It is a further note by Liedtke that is the occasion for my approach to portraiture in this brief essay. The curator quotes a remark by Joshua Bruyn that demonstrates the need to revise the classical conception. Bruyn is quoted to have said that in this picture “only the face is by Rembrandt.” It is a profoundly intriguing remark that put on the table the intersection of the two issues of authorship and genre, which are at the heart of any discussion of (self-)portraiture. I shall retain the place of the face in this remark. Incredibly, and apparently on the basis of this opinion of the then-leader of the Rembrandt Research Project, Christian Tümpel de-attributed the painting and catalogued it as “Circle of Rembrandt.” Given that in the nineties, the possible de-attribution of The Polish Rider also centered on the autograph face versus allo-graphic rest, this decision on Tümpel’s part is an astonishing but potentially important contribution to the discussion of the centrality of the face in figurative art in general, and (self-)portraiture in particular. Liedtke’s remark about the artist’s accomplishment would predict his disagreement with his colleague. At stake is not only the contestable issue of coherence, but more precisely, the centrality of the autograph face as a distinctive feature of the genre of self-portraiture. This centrality, plausible as it may seem, is not “natural” enough to be accepted without some reflection. 6
The face is not simply a part of the human body. It is the one that facilitates connections between people and thus constitutes the interface of sociality. The face is, in this sense, both over-estimated and under-estimated. In order to get out of the kind of discussions in which Bruyn was able to make such a farcical even if at the same time, potentially profoundly productive, because so contestable, judgment of authenticity, and based on which, in turn, Tümpel was able to deprive the public by dis-attributing the painting, I propose to focus on the performativity of the face – the way it acts. This allows us both to consider self-portrait and portrait together, and to avoid essentialist views of what the face “expresses”. For this I shift for a moment to the significant verb “to face”. To face is three acts at once. Literally, facing is the act of looking someone else in the face. It is also, coming to terms with something that is difficult to live down by looking it in the face rather than denying or repressing it. Thirdly, it is making contact, placing the emphasis on the second person, and acknowledging the need of that contact simply in order to be able to sustain life.7
This view leads completely away from the mirror (tool for self-portraiture) and, or versus, the mask, as a tool for sitting for portraiture, withholding self-revelation, replacing it with selfpresentation. It makes the distinction redundant. If we just assume that the self-portraitist also poses – wears a mask – since he or she presents the self self-consciously for a public, the mask is just as relevant as the mirror. And the disputes in Rembrandt scholarship make more sense when we consider, in terms of facing, the possibility of that intermediate genre, the selfportrait made by someone else, commissioned or not. In both cases – of the doubted selfportrait and the overly-posed portrait, hence, a portrait of another, whether or not the features on the painting resemble either the sitter or the artist – we can call the result an “allo-portrait”. This would be the reverse of Leonardo’s famous claim that all painting is, unconsciously, selfportraiture.8 I would like to complement this view with the thesis that all portraiture is allo-, in relation to the self as well as to other sitters, even in the case of self-portraiture, and hence, that a selfportrait commissioned from another artist, or done by students, deserves the genre label as much or as little as an autographic one. Between the hand and the face, and the performativity of both, they would have, inevitably, aspects of auto- and aspects of allo-. An instructive example of the commissioned self-portrait is the photographic self-positioning of the run-away, then emancipated American slave Fredrick Douglass, which he systematically (had) made, and which he used to put forward his political argument for emancipation. Prefiguring the later view of subjectivity mentioned above, he poses for the camera, stages himself the way he wants to be seen – the Munchian mask – and thus shows himself and hides himself at the same time, in the same image. The many photographs, as numerous and emphatically “self”- oriented as the self-portraits of Rembrandt and Munch – two instances I happen to have studied – cannot be generically distinguished from the autographic self-portraits that constitute the basis of the genre.9
In a study of Goya, Tzvetan Todorov gives two further indication that, I think, support my attempt to integrate the two genres. One is the caricature. Todorov writes that the fact that the caricature distances the subject from his habitual self allows the image to become truer, since “the mask tells the truth that the deceptive façade of the naked face hides”. The caricature “simplifies and amplifies the features of the face in order to makes visible what one tends usually to keep secret”. (64) Eliminating redundant features and deploying hyperbole, the artist is better equipped to reach the truth of the person, rather than judging them subjectively, as caricatures tend to do. In a slightly different vein, later in the book the author praises, precisely, the recognition of the subjectivity of the look. But then, he is discussing the self-portraiture, which in Goya’s case is a remarkable contribution to muddling the genre waters. Not only are his self-portraits amazingly devoid of narcissism, but also, one of his most beautiful self-portraits show the artist/sitter being attended to, with tenderness, by someone else. (275) Thus, with portraiture, self-portraiture, caricature and what is more easily seen as a genre painting, we must face that allo-portrait, paradoxical as the notion is, seems the best proposal for a wider, more encompassing conception of portraiture.10
Where does this leave the kind of portraits Luca del Baldo makes? His fine painting makes them entirely “auto-” in terms of his “hand” – they are most surely autographic. With “fine” I am emphatically not alluding to the so-called “fine painting” of utter realism in the seventeenth century, but to a combination of artistic and technical “finesse” – a thin (fine) brush stroke that nevertheless significantly doesn’t hide itself. The sitters are other people, but selected by the artist; that is already one step in the merging of self and other. Moreover, the portraits are based on photographs made by other hands, different from each sitter. But the sitters, or subjects, select the photographs. Hence, they choose a likeness to themselves; one they like. Given that choice they make, the photograph with its resemblance to the sitter, comes close to the mask Munch wrote about. Auto- and allo- move around, and it becomes impossible to distinguish them.
This allows other aspects to come to the fore. The faces we see in del Baldo’s collection are first of all just that: a collection. And the elements in collections, as distinct from arbitrary storage, have something in common. In this case, it is the profession they share: the study of art, and hence, the knowledge and insight in, among many other genres, portraiture. The remarkable, and confusing feature is that each portrayed face belongs to a person who will recognize the other faces, since they are all colleagues, meet in conferences and other professional events. With the verb “recognition” I bring in another half-baked characteristic, this time of the act of looking. Looking (at art) is a mixture of recognition and innovation. Both are necessary. Without recognition, an image cannot mean anything. Without innovation, art becomes wall-paper. As a consequence, we are compelled to look at the way del Baldo has performed his task. Armed with a paint brush, his hand has made something else, something allo-, of the photograph, and thus the resulting portrait challenges the reliance on recognition. It depends on the viewer; but it is possible to contemplate these portraits stroke by stroke, looking at color nuance and juxtaposition, and feel the confusion, almost annoying, that recognition places in the way of such contemplation of the surface and texture of the paintings. The tension between the two, recognition and novelty, or better, between figuration and paint work, I have term “surface tension” in a study on Munch’s emphatic brushwork that counters the realistic, biographical clichés that viewers tend to bring to the art of this over-exposed artist.11
Let’s face it. Perhaps we should give up on, or at least relativize the distinction between portrait and self-portrait, between portraiture and other forms of painting, between autographic and allographic paint work, and abandon the genre label altogether. Like the identity of sitters when the portrayed person is famous, a genre label makes us jump to conclusions, and turns the recognition itself into a mask, hiding the art work. Between the face and the hand, the artist’s eye is more strongly influential for the resulting artwork as the face, and eye, of the sitter is for the recognition. A collaboration between sensations – the reassurance of recognition and the excitement of surprise – makes such distinctions futile, even untenable. Collaboration: as among colleagues, such as this merry bunch of art historians. Collaboration: not similitude, but a respect of differences.
1 Ms in Munch Museum MM T 2547, quoted in Woll (1993: 33). For an extensive analysis of Munch’s practice of, especially, self-portraiture, see Jon-Ove Steihaug, “Edvard Munch’s Performative SelfPortraits”, 12-24 in Guleng, Mai Britt, Brigitte Sauge and Jon-Ove Steihaug, eds. Edvard Munch: 1863- 1944 Oslo: Munch Museet, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design / Milano: Skira Editore S.p.A. 2013, and my own study on Munch, Emma & Edvard Looking Sideways: Loneliness and the Cinematic. Oslo: Munch Museum / Brussels: Mercatorfonds; Yale University Press, 2017
2 A classical study on the portrait is Brilliant, Richard 1991 Portraiture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Attempts to move beyond that view can be found in Woodall, Joanna (ed.), Portraiture: Facing the Subject. Manchester, 1996: Manchester University Press. The term allo-portrait was first used by Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe1979 Portrait de l'artiste, en general Paris: Christian Bourgois (91) and developed more by Hirsch, Marianne 1997 Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press (ch. 3).
3 Alphen, Ernst van 2005 “The Portrait’s Dispersal”, included in a volume of his essays, Art in Mind, How Contemporary Images Shape Thought. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (21-47).
4 Liedtke, Walter, Carolyn Logan, Nadine M. Orenstein, and Stephanie S. Dickey, 1995 Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Aspects of Connoisseurship. Vol. II: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints: Art-Historical Perspectives. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art / Harry N. Abrams.
5 In this sense, genre concepts are like those “metaphors we live by” theorized by Lakoff and Johnson in their book Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1980; 1999). On the mirror stage, see Jacques Lacan, “The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience.” In Ecrits: A Selection. Ed. and trans. Alan Sheridan, 1-7. New York: W.W. Norton (1977).
6 Cat. Nr A 73. Tümpel is among the most eager de-attributionists of Rembrandt paintings, surpassing the Rembrandt Research Project in this respect.
7 I have developed this view of facing on an article on a video installation based on it. See “In Your Face: Migratory Aesthetics.” In The Culture of Migration: Politics, Aesthetics and Histories, edited by Sten Pulz Moslund, Anne Ring Petersen and Moritz Schramm. London: I.B. Tauris, 2015, 147-170.
8 See Zwijnenberg, Robert (1999). The Writings and Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci - Order and Chaos in Early Modern Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
9 For an in-depth discussion of the case of Douglass see chapter 2 in Ernst van Alphen, Failed Images: Photography and Its Counter-Practices, Amsterdam: Valiz 2018.
10 Tzvetan Todorov, Goya à l’ombre des lumières. Paris: Flammarion, 2008. The self-portrait by Goya that lacks all narcissism, and I would add, comes closer to caricature than to self-portraiture, is the 1820 painting Self-Portrait with Arrieta, at the fine Arts Museum in Minneapolis.
11 I have developed this concept in order to foreground Munch’s radically innovative mode of painting, that tends to remain unseen or undervalued, due to an overdose of biographical information. See chapter 10 of my 2017 book Emma & Edvard Looking Sideways: Loneliness and the Cinematic. Oslo, the Munch Museum / Antwerp, Mercator Fonds / New Haven, Yale University Press.
Mieke Bal, 2018
(Copyrights by Mieke Bal. All rights reserved)
" A carefully-taken photograph serves up a kind of certifiable accuracy as the optical trace of someone’s presence. A painted portrait has another kind of truth - the truth of an act of looking that is translated by the artist into paint that endows the subject with the a felt presence beyond optical veracity. David Hockney said to me that ‘photography will never replace a painted portrait because it is not real enough”. By ‘real' he meant the direct act of communication between the living persons of the artist, the sitter and the viewer. Luca's portrait of me has that living sense, greeting visitors at thethreshold of my study with disconcerting vitality. I am present even if absent. "
(2018. Copyrights by Martin Kemp. All rights reserved)
Andreas Beyer :
How do you recognize a world-famous scholar? Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897) 2 The virtual academy that Luca del Baldo is composing is based upon the essential principle of the portrait: the absence of the model. The effigy is always representative. In the strict sense of the term: the image occupies the place of the one who is not there. Already Leon Battista Alberti knew about this specific characteristic, when he encouraged his contemporaries to mold the faces, the heads of one’s friends in clay, in order to be surrounded by them even though they might be distant. And so, in the splendid isolation of his atelier on lake Como, the painter is encircled by an increasing series of personalities that are important to him: authors, philosophers, historians of art. People that work and write on the power and force of the image, that represent the ocular thought. I do not know, if anyone of them has ever personally visited the atelier. Usually the painter solicits photographs and chooses the one that in his eyes comes closest to what he has learned and deduced from the persons writings. He then transforms the chemical trace of the photographic surface in a pictorial gesture, in a stylistic cipher, proper only to him – a virtuosic translation, interpretative, becoming steadily more independent. But the photos on which del Baldo relies are, commonly, taken by others. I do not think that anyone has sent a selfie – only the most audacious would have done so. This means, that the authors are already two. Like me, also most of the others will have asked a confidant to take the picture. A person of trust, of whom you can be sure that you will be looked at with affection, sympathy, even tenderness. But the camera works according to its own technical rules, which means that another “author” comes into play. And since one postures, attitudinizes, tries to appear in the most appealing (or: authoritative) manner in front of the lens, also the model claims its part of the ”invention”. The paternities of the portrait are hence multiple. Although the brush of the artist, his 3 choice of the detail, the colors, the light, his hand determine its final apparition more than anything else. So what do we see? Whom do we see