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)
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)
HANS BELTING :
"My resistance to comment on my portrait is explained by the fact that I am presently writing a book on face and mask. In my view , the difference between face and mask should be reconsidered. The face is to some extent also a mask, a mask of the self. Nietzsche, in his essays on “Jenseits von Gut und Böse”, even claimed that we need a mask to remain or to become ourselves. In your case, you have produced without knowing me in person, a portrait after a photograph and turned it into a painting which I only know from the digital reproduction. What then is it what I see? My expression is or seems spontaneous , and I have forgotten when and in which context the photograph was taken which you used. I smile in your portrait but why and to whom? Maybe, I have changed since, as we always only remain ourselves on the condition that we change. In my manuscript for the book I even suspect that we only represent the self , since we aim at and exercise , or avoid ,such a representation. Thus, my hesitation to write about what I see ( and what it is what I see or don’t see) , may be the only reaction which is more than a play with empty words and questionable ideas. In the meanwhile, I continue to write a chapter on the portrait in my “history of the face” and I claim that what in other cultures was the mask, in the European tradition has become the portrait as a place holder , but a placeholder for what and for whom?"
Hans Belting, 2011
(copyrights by Hans Belting. All rights reserved)
NOAM CHOMSKY :
"The portrait is highly evocative, and if it were of someone else, I think I could comment on it. But though it may seem strange given the life I lead, I have always preferred to be very private, and apart from necessity, would gladly remain so. That carries over to listening to my own voice, answering personal questions, writing anything autobiographical that goes beyond what is part of the public sphere – and contemplating a portrait of myself and trying to articulate the thoughts it arouses. For better or worse.
NOAM CHOMSKY, 2011
(copyrights by Noam Chomsky. All rights reserved)
SLAVOJ ZIZEK :
"In his lessons on aesthetics, Hegel wrote that a good portrait resembles the person it portrays more than this person resembles itself - it distills the inner truth of a person covered up by his or her accidental features. This, exactly, is what I felt when I first saw Luca del Baldo's oil portrait of myself: all the inner despairs and doubts lurking in me are there open to see. It is not a flattering portrait, but it is "me" much more than my photos. It is a "me" that I often do not like, but nonetheless a "me' that I am."
SLAVOJ ZIZEK, 2011
(copyright by Slavoj Zizek. All rights reserved)
DANIEL C. DENNETT:
A portrait is supposed to capture a person at his best, and Luca del Baldo's painting does that so well I find myself wishing I could live up to it all the time, because here I appear intensely engaged in discussion without being combative, genial and curious, not derisive or dismissive, and it is clear that I am deeply enjoying the exploration of ideas--with somebody. Philosophy is at its best an interpersonal exploration, not a solitary search for a proof, and the implied presence of the interlocutor makes this a very happy painting.
There has never been a better time to be a philosopher of mind. On every side, people are beginning to recognize that some features of our traditional conception of the mind need to be revised, replaced, strengthened, and others need to be abandoned. Cognitive science and evolutionary biology are introducing a host of new and unsettling facts about our brains and how they evolved, and how our social arrangements have also evolved in parallel.
Can such a "naturalized" view of ourselves preserve our sense of meaning, of dignity, of responsibility? There are ethical and legal complications, questions about whether we can have free will if our minds are our brains, questions about the limits of scientific understanding, and these questions are now being asked with a great deal of anxiety.
For me, it is a pleasure to be able to say that I have been thinking hard about all these questions for over forty years, and have up-to-date versions of answers, ready to hand. The answers I have discovered, and tested extensively, are reassuring. YES, the naturalized vision of human life that we are achieving through science can support our most cherished ideals: knowledge and truth, love, responsibility, freedom, and indeed the very meaningfulness of life. We don't need God, or immaterial souls, or miracles, or some unimaginable exemption from causality to secure our minds as conscious sources of meaningful human action.
We can be the authors of our deeds and the masters of our lives. Explaining how the material activities of bodily cells can accomplish the "magic" of consciousness and secure the varieties of free will worth wanting is a deeply satisfying project, since it goes some way towards completing the grand unification of matter and meaning envisaged by Darwin.
DANIEL C. DENNETT, 2011
(copyright by Daniel C. Dennett. All rights reserved)
MICHAEL ANN HOLLY:
When I was a little girl of six or so, I somehow had myself convinced that the reflection I caught
in my grandparents’ darkened dining room windows on a winter’s night was not really me. So I
adopted the strategy of a jester. If my grandmother, tucked away in her cozy kitchen, loved me
so much that she arranged to have a shadowy stand-in prettier, more balletic, more
sophisticated, freer than I felt myself to be, then I could try and winkle this substitute girl out of
her glassy shell. I leaped, I pirouetted, I gestured, I giggled, I waved – all to avail. She was such
a clever mimic that she kept up with me at every turn. The world was conspiring to trick me,
not out of malice but affection.
Did Luca del Baldo, magician of mimesis, master of illusion, manage to catch me? The
reticulated net just behind (before?) my image suggests that he did. And he has almost – but
not quite – convinced me that this painting is really me. Why cannot I just yield into it? I might
long ago have discarded its prototype – one of my institute’s “official” photographs -- had not
Luca requested a sample around the same time. I did not particularly like what the camera had
recorded: the glance into the faraway, the wrinkles, the frown lines, the pursed lips, the
guarded and suspicious expression. How did that leaping, laughing little girl grow so serious
and old? “Could that really be me?” -- as my beloved grandfather once remarked upon looking
down at his own aged hands holding the evening newspaper. Much of my own countenance
bears the scars of the singular tragedy of my life, the sudden death of my young son a quarter
of a century ago. My favorite photograph, actually, is one that Alexander snapped of me a
month before he died. I love that my innocent, genuine smile is the result of my looking at him
looking back at me. . . . . .
When Luca asked if I might suggest some sort of meaningful background, I mentioned that I had
recently given a lecture on Breughel’s “Hunters in the Snow,” a painted allegory of winter that I
much admire, especially with its rendering of crows and hounds, two of my favorite beings. (I
have recently even named my black pup, Crow). The ease with which Luca “copies” a complex
sixteenth century landscape is something at which to marvel. And at least it takes much of the
focus off me. Yet there is one dog at the left of the painting gone missing in Luca’s artful
cropping. It is the one creature, an exhausted black dog, that possesses a piercingly direct gaze,
an insouciant foregrounded creature that stares plaintively out of the missing corner as if to
say, “Wait did you see me? Really see me?” Mysteries disappear right in front of the
portraitist’s eyes, as well as my own. Where did the long ago dog go? How did my shadow girl
vanish into the darkness of a winter’s night, leaving behind this semi-stranger?
Michael Ann Holly, 2018
(copyrights by Michael Ann Holly. All rights reserved)
KENDALL L. WALTON :
Luca Del Baldo’s Portrait: On Painting from Photographs
Luca Del Baldo’s portrait is remarkable. He made an intriguing choice of a photograph to use (not to mention a face to depict). And he created an intense, compelling, vibrant depiction from it. Despite my admiration, however, the portrait makes me very uncomfortable, partly no doubt because it is of me, with its unsettling combination of strangeness and familiarity, but also because the guy in the portrait is too close for comfort, even when I stand well back from the canvas! That of course is part of what makes the painting so powerful. It is a wonderful work of art. I will display it somewhere, but not over my desk. I won’t have that guy, me, constantly breathing down my neck. Beethoven’s late quartets, than which no greater music has been conceived, are also, sometimes, too much. * * * Del Baldo’s use of photographs in creating his portraits invites attention to these two modes of picture making. Much has been written comparing them, exploring similarities and differences in the manners of their production, their makers’ objectives, the nature of the results, the ways in which viewers respond to them, the uses to which they are put. I merely mention, here, what I take to be the most fundamental and most important difference: To look at a photograph of a turtle or a philosopher is actually to see it; one sees the object, indirectly, by seeing its photographic representation. Looking at a painting, by contrast, one sees only the representation, not the turtle or philosopher. Photographs are “transparent” and paintings are not.1 This does not mean that one’s view of a turtle or philosopher, mediated by a photograph, is veridical. Often it is not. It is a mistake to suppose that photographs provide more reliable information about the world than paintings generally do just because they are photographs, or because of their “mechanical” origin. Whatever epistemological value either photographs or paintings possess depends on particular circumstances. Paintings made in a society with an obsession for accuracy or religious strictures against mis 1 I explain this in “Transparent Pictures,” in my Marvelous Images: On Values and the Arts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008). 2 representation may be far more reliable witnesses to the world they depict than photographs made by cameras with flexible lenses or randomized settings. I and others sometimes fault works of art for being too “perfect,” or too contrived, for revealing too obviously and extensively the hand of the artist in their construction. We prefer, sometimes, a sense of accident or naturalness, a sense that not every detail was subject to the artist’s direct control, that some of them just happened. In other instances, however, these (different but related)flaws are not flaws at all. We prize a work’s perfection, admire the artist’s sensitivity and insight and skill in arranging every detail to best advantage, appreciate seeing her in her work, seeing what she cares about, perhaps empathizing with her or sharing her vision. The contrast between approximations of these two aesthetic attitudes is a central element of Heinrich Wölfflin’s account of the differences between painting in the classic and baroque periods. He points out that Rembrandt, in contrast to earlier artists, aims for a “semblance of hazard” in a composition, and Rubens avoids an arrangement that “would look insufferably ‘sought for’,” opting for one that is “felt … as the natural thing.”2 Photographs can go either way, and they do. But photography is especially suited to satisfying the first objective: avoiding contrivance, obscuring the role of the photographer, giving an impression of accident, a “semblance of hazard.” Many photographs are, in part, accidental. The casual photographer points and shoots, and is surprised to find in the resulting picture a seagull flying overhead or a bizarre momentary smirk on a person’s face, perhaps even a fortuitous framing of the main subject by the branches of a tree or symmetries in the picture’s composition. (Either of the latter may be a bit of “perfection” without actual contrivance.) Such features in a painting are unlikely to surprise the painter, who deliberately, in full awareness, applied every individual brushstroke. If in his picture a seagull soars overhead, that is because he put it there. If a tree neatly frames the subject, that is probably not an accident. Paintings can nevertheless give an impression of accident. But there are limits. Impressions depend partly on what viewers know or believe about a picture’s likely actual genesis. Given our realization that painters control, individually, every detail of their 2 Wölfflin, Heinrich. Principles of Art History: The Problem of the Development of Style in Later Art (M. D. Hottinger, Trans.): Dover Publications, Inc. Originally published 1915. p. 134. 3 canvases, a striking violation of symmetry or an angle of view that partially obscures rather than frames the subject may seem deliberately designed to give an impression of accident, contrived to avoid the appearance of contrivance. Viewers of a photograph, a casual snapshot especially, are less likely to have this impression, aware as they are of how easily one can make photographs without choosing or controlling or even foreseeing many of its details. What about pictures created by a combination of painting and photographic processes? In addition to composites and touched up photographs, there are photographs of paintings—which may depict either the paintings or what the paintings depict, or both. And there are paintings from, based on, photographs, like Luca Del Baldo’s portraits. The latter category is enormously varied. (Think also of Chuck Close, and Vermeer who purportedly used not photographs but camera obscura images.) Painters use photographs in different ways. They may trace a photograph, or copy it, or just stand back taking in the photographed scene and rendering it in paint, without attending to the marks on the photographic surface, i.e. they may paint “from life,” from indirectly perceived life (however drastically their view is guided or distorted by the photograph). Del Baldo’s technique was largely the latter, I am sure; zooming in we see brushstrokes, nothing like the pixels of the digitized photograph he worked from. A photograph of a painting of a frog is transparent to the painting but not to the frog. We see the painting “through it” (i.e. indirectly), but not the frog, no matter which it is understood to depict. Paintings based on photographs, like Del Baldo’s portraits, are not transparent at all. Like other painters, those working from photographs ordinarily control every detail of their canvases, deliberately execute every brushstroke. Some of the brushstrokes might serve to avoid certain obvious contrivances, spoiling symmetries or avoiding neat framing. But they themselves are likely not to be contrived, not transparently calculated to promote an artificial sense of accident. The viewer’s impression may be that the artist merely followed the lead of the photograph, without necessarily even noticing important features of the results. A violation of symmetry, for instance, may seem to be as natural or accidental as it does in the photograph. Of course what either the photographer or the painter actually noticed or intended may not be what he or she seems to have noticed or 4 intended. Both artists may have meant to give viewers a sense of accident and, because this intention is not apparent, succeeded in doing so. * * * Luca Del Baldo carefully reproduced the intricate pattern of reflections in the right lens of my glasses. A painter working from directly perceived life, seeing me face to face over her easel, might well have omitted them, wanting not to detract from the face itself, not to clutter the image with presumed irrelevancies. Or she might have included the reflections, hoping to encourage the (perhaps false) impression she was not deliberately trying to focus attention exclusively on the face, but at the risk of making this objective all too evident. This is scarcely a risk for Del Baldo. One’s impression is that the reflections depicted in his portrait are simply carried over from the photograph. They inherit the casual naturalness of their predecessors in the photograph. I focus on these mostly indecipherable marks on Del Baldo’s canvas with some relief; they help me avoid making eye contact with myself. I will find a place of honor for the portrait, one where I won’t have to look at it much.
Kendall L. Walton , University of Michigan
(Copyrights by Kendall L. Walton. All rights reserved)