Niccolò di Leonardo Strozzi, banker to the Renaissance Papal court, on display at the Met in the recent exhibit on portraiture. His sins may have been many, but personal vanity does not appear to have been one of them.
The only exception I know is the case,
when I’m out on a quiet spree,
fighting vainly the old ennui
and I suddenly turn and see,
your fabulous face.
I Get a Kick Out of You – Cole Porter
An exhibit at The Neue Galerie, that is dedicated to German and Austrian early 20th century art and design branches out from the usual program to bring together the marvelous heads by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, 1736-1783. A strange fellow – he went mad, it seems. Certainly, these heads he created were not the stuff of court and bourgeois portraiture of his day. Ahead of his time?
I have seen pictures and examples of his heads off and on over the years – it was a treat to see so many close up all at once. The Wiener Werkstatte postcards were nice too.
Mr. Savage, of Swiftly Tilting Planet fame, commented on my recent post about my visit to the Frick Museum. He mentioned the reflection in the mirror in the painting shown here. That got me thinking about how often artists use mirrors in their work, to deepen the meaning, to add interest, or to display their virtuosity. Some favorites here:
A mirror is sort of like an ironic painting – it’s flat, it creates an illusion of a world beyond, except it’s the real world. For centuries, painting was preoccupied with creating that illusionistic realm, behind the flat picture-plane. With perspective, they could make it appear as it appeared to us. The concept had legs – Stendhal famously compared a novel, his anyway, to a mirror being carried along a road, reflecting the life around it. Well, it’s easy to go on, but I’d be repeating myself…
A remarkable painter! He was the favorite of Edwardian society, but at the height of his success as a portraitist in the “grand manner,” he gave it up. A very private man, sophisticated, yet also naive, dedicated to his art, his friends, and his family, but little else. So what?
He knew what he was. He moved in those circles, but he was not quite of them. Who knows what he really thought? He certainly was never ironic or satirical in his depiction of the rich and great. He never shared their anti-semitism either, doing some of his best work in portraits of the Anglo-Jewish financial and merchant kings, much to the chagrin of the Establishment.
With the advent of Modernism, and the self-conscious avant garde, his reputation went into eclipse, to be resuscitated later. Sample this from the great puritan – I do love him, though – Lewis Mumford (from wiki):
“Sargent remained to the end an illustrator…the most adroit appearance of workmanship, the most dashing eye for effect, cannot conceal the essential emptiness of Sargent’s mind, or the contemptuous and cynical superficiality of a certain part of his execution.”
Appearance of workmanship..? Alas, Lewis, I couldn’t disagree with you more.