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Entries in Portraiture (5)


Jean Clouet: Delicacy and Depth of Characterization

Jean Clouet - Guillaume Budé - ca. 1536 - Oil on Wood - 15 5/8 x 13 1/2 in. (39.7 x 34.3 cm) - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (click photo for larger image)Although he lived in France for most of his life, records show that Jean Clouet (c. 1485-1541) was not French by origin and was never naturalized. He was one of the chief painters to Francis I as early as 1516 and was appointed groom of the chamber from 1523 forward. As such, he enjoyed the salary and social position granted to the most prominent poets and scholars of the time. In the early 1520s he lived in Tours and from 1529 in Paris. He painted chiefly portraits, but, at least iIn the earlier part of his career, he produced religious subjects.

“Painter to King Francis I, Jean Clouet played a key role in establishing the Renaissance portraiture tradition in France, yet this is his only extant painted portrait. It depicts Guillaume Budé, librarian to Francis I and the leading humanist of sixteenth-century France…. Budé’s fingers hold his page, as if interrupted. With the quill in his right hand, he has written in Greek, ‘While it seems to be good to get what one desires, the greatest good is not to desire what one does not need’ (Joannes Stobaeus, 3.5.18).” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC)


Van Eyck: The Arnolfini Marriage

Jan van Eyck - Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife 1434 - Oil on oak, 82 x 60 cm (32.3 x 23.6 in) National Gallery, London (click photo for larger image)"The Arnolfini Marriage" is a name that has been given to this untitled double portrait by Jan van Eyck (c. 1390-1441). It is one of the greatest celebrations of human mutuality. This painting reveals to us the inner meaning of a true marriage. Giovanni Arnolfini, a prosperous Italian banker who had settled in Bruges, and his wife Giovanna Cenami, stand side by side in the bridal chamber, facing towards the viewer. The husband is holding out his wife's hand. Despite the restricted space, the painter has contrived to surround them with a host of symbols. To the left, the oranges placed on the low table and the windowsill are a reminder of an original innocence, of an age before sin. Above the couple's heads, the candle that has been left burning in broad daylight on one of the branches of an ornate copper chandelier can be interpreted as the nuptial flame, or as the eye of God. The small dog in the foreground is an emblem of fidelity and love. Meanwhile, the marriage bed with its bright red curtains evokes the physical act of love which, according to Christian doctrine, is an essential part of the perfect union of man and wife.

Although all these different elements are highly charged with meaning, they are of secondary importance compared to the mirror, the focal point of the whole composition. It has often been noted that two tiny figures can be seen reflected in it, their image captured as they cross the threshold of the room. They are the painter himself and a young man, doubtless arriving to act as witnesses to the marriage. The essential point, however, is the fact that the convex mirror is able to absorb and reflect in a single image both the floor and the ceiling of the room, as well as the sky and the garden outside, both of which are otherwise barely visible through the side window. The mirror acts as a sort of hole in the texture of space. It sucks the entire visual world into itself, transforming it into a representation. The cubic space in which the Arnolfinis stand is a prefiguration of the techniques of perspective, which were still to come.


J√≥zsef Borsos: Strong Colors and Harmonic Compositions

József Borsos - Lady with a Lorgnette - 1856 - Oil on canvas, 99 x 80 cm - Private collection (click photo for larger image)Hungarian portrait painter József Borsos (1821-1883) finished his studies in Vienna where he attracted much attention. His portraits of distinguished contemporaries and his elaborate genre pictures were highly successful. His typically realistic, strong and delicate colors, and his harmonic compositions, made him popular with the public patronizing art in Pest. But he eventually lost all of his money in the stock market.


Amedeo Modigliani

ITEM 495: Amedeo Modigliani

Amedeo Modigliani - The Pretty Housewife - 1915 - Oil on canvas; Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA (click photo for larger image)During the early 1900s in Paris, the Italian painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) developed a truly unique style. Today, the sight of his graceful portraits and lush nudes evoke his name immediately. But during his brief career, very few people apart from his fellow artists were aware of his gifts. Modigliani had to struggle against poverty and chronic ill health, dying at the tender age of 35 of tuberculosis and excesses of drink and drugs. His interest in African masks and sculpture remains evident, especially in the treatment of the sitters' faces: flat and masklike, with almond eyes, twisted noses, and pursed mouths. Nevertheless, despite their extreme economy of composition and neutral backgrounds, Modigliani’s portraits convey a sharp sense of each sitter's personality. Modigliani’s work also embodies the entire Italian tradition, which can be seen in the elongated necks of his sitters. This is yet another characteristic that sets him apart from other of his contemporary Modernists.


Dynamic Portraiture

Ferdinand von Rayski - The Royal Saxon Forestry Inspector Carl Ludwig von Schönberg - 1850 - Oil on canvas, 135 x 102 cm - Neue Pinakothek, Munich (click photo for larger image)German painter Ferdinand von Rayski (1806-1890) is best known for his portraits. From 1816 to 1821 he studied drawing in Dresden, and from 1823 to 1825 he was at the Kunstakademie. In 1829 he began his career as an artist, initially painting portraits of his noble relatives in Hannover and Silesia. From 1831 to 1834 he lived in Dresden, receiving numerous portrait commissions. In 1834-35, while in Paris, he was influenced by the paintings of Delacroix, Géricault and Gros. His use of color became freer, and his compositions more dramatic and dynamic. From 1840 until his death he lived in Dresden, though he made frequent visits to other parts of Europe for long periods of time.