Text 4 THE PORTRAIT
Nowadays famous faces are widely reproduced in the media. Television, magazines and newspapers spread them quickly throughout the world. But prior to the invention of photography, things were not so easy. How could a king, for instance, become known to all his subjects? There was only one way: to commission a portrait from a painter, sculptor or engraver.
In Medieval times, artists painted very few portraits, because religion was the main interest. Portraiture began to flourish at the end of the Middle Ages, when the individual began to gain importance. The first portraits, dating from the 14th century, were still part of religious painting. When a living person was portrayed, he was generally shown on his knees next to a Crucification or a Madonna and Child. He was frequently shown much smaller than the religious figures in the painting, for, even if he were a king or a prince, he could not be painted the same size as God.
What a shock the first portrait of a man alone must have produced! This historic and totally revolutionary painting was painted by an unknown artist and it is the portrait of a king of France, Jean le Bon (1319-1364).
Over the centuries that followed, every king, prince and governer was to have himself "portraited". At first they were invariably shown in profile, as they were on coins and medallions, because painting techniques were not advanced enough to produce a proper likeness in full-face. After the discoveries that were made about colour and modelling, they began to be shown in three-quarter profiles and at last, in full-face. Then they began to be painted half-length, in a flattering pose and richly apparelled. That is when the "display portrait" came into being. By then one no longer needed to be a king or queen to have one's portrait done, but one still had to be rich!
Artists made a good living out of painting the portraits of the well-off, but they also painted them for pleasure. They experimented with their faces, and thus the "self-portrair" came into fashion. From the 17th century, they painted complete unknowns, often usually looking people full of malice or fun.
The portrait continued to gain in popularity, and the group portraits were done of the members of the same firm, profession or social group. These paintings were less costly, since the fee was divided by the number of people in the painting. When someone in a powerful position commissioned a group portrait, he usually intended it as a publicity for himself. Thus, Napoleon commissioned the painter David to paint his coronation as Emperor in 1806 so that entire nation could share in the historic event. 150 years later television would doubtless achieve the same effect.
From 1830, the art of portraiture went into a fast decline. A new technique was available to all levels of society: photography. Who could prefer the days spent for a portrait to the instant gratification provided by a camera?
Date: 2015-01-29; view: 410