Wednesday, February 17, 2016

That Face. . . A Portrait in Rome . . . a Gallery Visit

While I'm trying to decide how much of my daughter's advice (20% less effort!) I should apply to blogging and the other activities in my life, I'll just post this Portrait of a Lady (speculated to be Isabella de' Medici) by a 16th century Florentine painter. I was impressed by the modernity -- or is it simply timelessness?-- of this young woman's face when I saw the painting in Rome's Palazzo Barberini two weeks ago.

Since then, I've thought a bit about how quickly the European art world changed, as the Barberini Palace's collection showed -- in one room, visitors are steeped in the religious art of the medieval period with its many, many depictions of Madonna and Child.


While models may (must?) have been used for these religious subjects, the emphasis is clearly not on evoking any sense of individuality, but rather on calling to mind and emphasising details of a story that is already well known or on instructing the young or those who are being newly introduced to the important Old and New Testament stories and truths.


But the rediscovery of Classical Greek and early Roman portraiture and statuary together with a creeping secularisation that accompanied significant societal changes in response to shifts in political organisation (yes! gross simplification! Remember -- I'm aiming at 20% less. . . ) meant that artists found patrons who wanted themselves and their loved ones and/or families depicted along with the religious subjects they were simultaneously commissioning. (Often, of course, during the Renaissance and beyond, these religious tableaux included faces drawn from the artists' contemporaries, merging the religious iconography with portraiture -- Caravaggio often included a self-portrait in his dramatisation of Biblical scenes.)

Now, having extended myself far beyond any confidence in my limited knowledge of art history, I shall tiptoe away and let you admire the portrait of the young woman at the top of this post. Do you, too, find something strikingly modern about her face? I can so readily imagine her leaping out of that frame, ripping off the cumbersome (if beautiful!) garments and pulling on a pair of jeans, some Vince sneakers, and a well-cut but comfortably worn grey sweatshirt, perhaps a hoodie over a T, and heading off to meet her girlfriends.... No? And if you agree with me, help me identify what does the trick? For me, it's the unadorned face -- neatly trimmed but not overly so, those eyebrows, and a very natural blush, the simple luxe of those pearls (part of the point of the portrait, I'm sure, a display of wealth, of sumptuary, as was so typical of Renaissance painting).

If, like me, you enjoy the occasional art-gallery visit and you ever find yourself in Rome, I'd highly recommend popping into the Palazzo Barberini -- for one thing, it boasts stairways by both Bernini and Borromini so that you can see for yourself what that competition was all about (Jake Morrissey's The Genius in the Design was all about the rivalry between these two -- fascinating!).  And in early February, at least, it was quiet, no crowds to interfere with my gazing. . . oh, that Baker's Daughter! Raphael! and Caravaggio's Judith. . . his Narcissus. . . .

But we can't all be popping off to Rome for our gallery visits, and so many delights can be found closer to home. Or we can stop by the on-line gallery Coastal Ripples is curating in a monthly link-up she's begun hosting. Each month, Barbara posts on a exhibition she's had the good fortune to visit, and then she invites other bloggers to link their own response to an exhibition or to a particular painting, or even, she suggests, writing about a favourite or newly-discovered artist. Anything to do with learning more about Art and its History.  It's a great idea for blog-sharing, and I'm going to link this post with her February "Paint Monthly" (even though I'm very tardy). Perhaps you'd like to pop over there and check out her post and those of the other bloggers in the link -- say hello from me, if you do  . . .


28 comments:

  1. Does the Portrait of a Lady look something like your red-haired daughter?

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    1. In fact, yes, they do resemble each other! A friend once sent me a gorgeous video someone had made -- perhaps you saw it when it circulated social media a few years ago. If not, Google "500 years of Female Portraits" and YouTube, to find. In it, one famous portrait of a titian-haired, brown-eyed, longish-nosed beauty morphed magically into another -- and the reason my friend had forwarded it was that so many of them reflected something of our redhead's appearance. .

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  2. Georgia,you are so right,excellent!
    Both of them are so beautiful women!
    Dottoressa

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    1. I am back. Was thinking about Isabella. It is maybe the soft light,delicate and gently brush strokes,little bit blurred, painting of a beautiful and inteligent young woman. It is realistic and timeless.
      There are other portraits which can change their clothes and become temporary,Raphael's La muta,even Botticelli's Primavera,and some more.
      You are the lady I respect just the way you are,successfull,clever,versatile and nice,20% - or +!
      Dottoressa

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    2. Yes, the light touch -- it's not an overly laboured portrait...
      I think Rafael's La Formarina, also at the Barberini, has a timelessness, can seem contemporary, and yes to the others you mention as well.
      Thank you so much for your kind words!

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  3. Very natural look - not stylised eyebrows, hair etc so I think apart from the clothes and jewellery she could slot into the twenty first century very easily. I enjoy visiting galleries and exhibitions and the link up you mention sounds interesting but I would draw the line at going to see the movie of the Renoir exhibition which is currently advertised in cinemas here. A rather strange idea I think. Mary

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    1. What an interesting concept! I looked this film up, and it sounds as if there's going to be considerable "value added" beyond simply following the camera. I can see how it might seem a strange idea, but then some of the exhibitions we've been to in the last while, especially in Paris, have been so crowded that one might get a better view through the camera lens. Still, there's something about being in the actual, physical presence of those brushstrokes, isn't there? Funny, but I think I'd happily view this documentary at home, not at all sure I'd want to sit in a cinema to watch it...

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  4. What a fabulous portrait, yes I see exactly what you mean about the simplicity. I feel we have now found an expert in our midst to add to an already growing collection of links. Isn't it wonderful that I can have a glimpse of a wonderful Italian gallery just through blogging. Many thanks for joining in. I look forward to more of your posts. Barbara xx

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    1. Oh, I'm so far from being an expert -- haven't even taken a single course in Art History, but I am keen, have visited a few exhibitions, and I'm trying to read a bit more 'round the topic. It's great to have the opportunity to peek over others' shoulders at a variety of exhibitions -- thank you for that!

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  5. I have always loved those gold Italian paintings. My favorites are the very early ones - I don't think I've ever made the kind of personal connections you did here.

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    1. By the gold ones, do you mean those like the medieval ones I've posted above? They're so sumptuously decorative -- and the colours are absolutely delectable! tracing intricate patterns that hold attention, perhaps to encourage protracted contemplation of the iconography. . .

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  6. Well, I think some of why you are easily seeing her as modern is that she reminds me of your lovely daughters! But I think it's also the lack of stylization and relaxed expression that makes it so easy to picture her with a pair of earbuds. ;-)

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    1. Earbuds, yes!! And her thumbs racing away at her phonescreen! ;-)

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  7. " I probably should shush these inner voices that impel me to do more..,"

    No one expects anything of you - since you're old and retired.
    That's the beauty of it.
    No. I don't like the picture of you.
    No. I don't see any wise words in dial-ing down 20%.
    Think, instead, Ruth Gordon: Oscar at 72.
    Think: YOUR OWN TRUTH
    It takes a lot to go counter to the ones who say they love us.
    Good luck with that.
    I know this won't be published under the comments, but I submit as Anonymous anyway, just because it's true.

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    1. Okay, well, first of all, I wonder why you think I wouldn't allow this to be published other than you choose to shroud your well-meaning but somewhat unkindly phrased words under the cloak of Anonymity... It's true that I prefer commenters to add some identifier (could be a pseudonym) just so that we build up some sense of each other, but I haven't blocked the Anonymous option so far... And, of course, you're commenting on a different post than the one you're really responding to, but that's easy enough for me to figure out and allow for. . .
      Your words are unnecessarily blunt, and perhaps you lack the generosity to see that I do try to live my own truth, but you say nothing here that I would choose to censor.
      In fact, many people expect many things of me, despite my being 62 and recently retired, and I'm quite happy to meet many of those expectations. The 20% less I'm contemplating have to do with physical health, primarily. The ones who love me, honestly, are very supportive, and I haven't seen much reason to go counter to them, although I will often wander off on a path that angles somewhat away. Thinking one's own truth doesn't mean striking out solo, in my estimation.
      Thanks, though, for adding another perspective to the conversation, and if you come back to comment again, do consider linking your comments to a name so that I can begin to recognise your voice.

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  8. Thank you for the thought-provoking post. The shift is obvious and fascinating. It's the lack of stylisation, the not-painting-from-a-received-template, but the painting of an individual that makes it so modern. Granted there is still a message, but the individual is now part of the message. You have given me something interesting to think about in the margins of a long day coming up at work. And perhaps digging out my student days' copies of Gombrich and investigating my university library. Love the idea of the 'Paint Monthly' link.

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    1. Yes, that whole emergence of the individual somewhere during the medieval period, into the Renaissance, has long fascinated me, and somehow it seemed particularly clear in the gallery that morning (I wonder if an added factor was that I felt so individual, in Rome without my husband, my daughter just a few blocks away but caring for her daughter, not sharing my interest in art). Isn't it wonderful how much there is still to learn, especially with the research skills our careers have given us? We will always be entertained. And yes, I thought the Paint Monthly link was clever and deserves to be supported.

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  9. Funnily enough, my first thought on seeing the picture was: she looks like she cannot wait to get out of that dress. Unlike a lot of portraits of the time, this woman seems to be itching to get the dress and make-up off and pull her hair out of the intricate braids. I bet she loved riding and being outside. At present, I spend quite a bit of time watching BBC 4 where there are wonderful programmes about art and culture and history. It helps to put our crazy times in perspective.

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    1. Okay, so on a horse, with earbuds. . . ;-) (see Une Femme's comment above)
      There are so very many great programmes available to watch on the arts -- will you go see the Renoir film Mary refers to above?

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    2. That was my reaction as well - she looks impatient with the sitting and the clothes!

      Despite this rather shallow comment, I am transfixed by the photos here. Great post, Frances!

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    3. I will look this film up. I actually think I would prefer to see it as a film. More time to consider. I never seem to get it in a gallery.

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  10. I think it's the full lips and healthy glow of the cheeks that make the first portrait look current. The pearl drop earrings and necklace (not so much the pearls in the hair) reminded me of formal portraits of the late Princess Diana too. X

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    1. Such a healthy glow to her cheeks, right?! And it's true that Diana wore pearls in a very similar manner...so a link across the centuries...

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  11. A timeless air to the first portrait, and need we any further proof that pearls are always perfect? I too see the resemblance to your daughter.

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    1. Yes to the pearls -- and you've met my daughter, so the noted resemblance acquires even more credibility. I posted the link to this post, with the photo of the portrait, and a couple of people who know Meg said the same thing right away.

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  12. Even before I began reading your post, I was struck by the comtemporary look of the young lady. Of course much has to do with what you say about the emergence of the individual in the era when the painting was made. She is not a type but a very particular person. Secondly, I think what makes it so easy to imagine her in jeans and T-shirt is that with her round face, her long nose and her small mouth she is NOT a stereotyped cover girl beauty of our times. Her beauty is very special and comes from her personality. And finally, in my opinion it is that slightly sulky expression of hers that is simply timeless. (I can see it in the classroom almost every morning...)

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    1. Too funny, Eleonore -- and of course you're right, although I didn't think of it until you said it (perhaps I barely noticed the slight sulk, having become so inured to it after raising three daughters, then teaching for so many years). I remember the comfort of recognising, about my third semester at the lectern, that the expressions I saw repeated on face after face those first few classes weren't an indication of whether I was boring or annoying -- they were simply the default setting on most late adolescent faces. The majority of them warmed up considerably and being showing signs of anticipation or amusement, engagement or disagreement or whatever, after they relaxed into being there, but you're right. There's a certain timeless guardedness, the slightest sulky holding-back that perhaps got set in place way back in the 16th . . . Thanks for that insight!

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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