24 Mar 2011

Portraits through time

These portraits span a period of just over 500 years, with a major gap between the late 17th and late 19th centuries. What has changed, apart from the invention of motor-cars and people's clothing?

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  1. True ! Yet look at the light on the faces… The last one is half-enlightened. I would guess light has always been associated to the color of health hasn't it ? And I find myself more confident and above all familiar with the oldest ones. I feel have the time to understanding them but it is not the case for the last one : maybe that painting is more about the aftermath of our world on people as she looks tired, aggressive and disconnected !

  2. You have a good point about light and its use. The introduction of strong contrasts between the light and dark areas in painting(the Italians called it Chiaroscuro)really started during the Renaissance, so you can see it most clearly as from the Titien painting in this series. But the Cranach uses this too, to a lesser extent.

    Your other point is about realism, and not trying to "improve" on someone's appearance. Rembrandt, in his self-portraits, was definitely not into improving his appearance, but he was one of the exceptions of his time. Then came photography, and, as I said in another recent article, this liberated painting in other directions, away from the pure reproduction of likenesses. The Fischl portrait is somewhere between the so-called hyperrealistic school and an expressionism that uses the type of intensity of looking and feeling to which Lucien Freud referred when he spoke about what painting could do (see my article on him also).