Thursday, 24 September 2009

Portraiture - The importance in defining cultural and historical assets through Art.

Hey chaps!

I thought as well as this being a way to keep a diary of my progress I could also open subjects to debate over which will help me further understand the subject of Portraiture.

I have noticed the relevance in Portraiture concerning the symbolization of key events in Mankinds development. It is an obvious statement that as a species we have undergone amazing technological changes over the years, however I feel through Portraiture Art we can experience these changes through another beings eyes. I feel that the images we find within Portraiture work depicts many things that other forms of Art fail to tell us, or at least do so through a greater intensity.

I shall start by observing some earlier forms of Portraiture. If we take a great well known Artist such as Leonardo Da Vinci (reference to and observe his work closely we can captivate the ideals in which he surpasses. Every peice of Art this man produced excelled in understanding of the subject. Perhaps his most famous peice of work, the Mona Lisa, does however shroud itself in a mystery about its purpose.

A genious such as himself would not just paint dead Art, there must be more to its meaning than a flattering image. The painting is otherwise known as "La Gioncando", which comes from the aparant sitter's Husband's surname. I say "apparent" due to the fact it is unclear as to who the true identity of this works sitter actually is, thus finding it hard to derive a motive to depict the paintings message. Perhaps Leonardo knew this to be true thus creating an image which can relate to further generations without consequence; we can decide for ourselfs. There is however a stand out apprehension that this image gives: notice the dark tones surrounding the sitters body.

Through research I have found that the possible sitter Lisa Gherardini was meant to have lost one of her children, perhaps explaining the "mourning veil"- esque attire covering her hair. Asides from this, her clothing actually shows no signs of aristocratic importance. This was painted in around 1503 - 1507, when a persons status was an easy target for prejudice. Perhaps this was a woman who had gained some form of inheritance, the image depicting some form of sarcastic wit thus explaining the mysterious smile. If she was the aforementioned sitter then it is led to beleive her and her husband had brought a house of their own, also giving birth to a new son after the death of their daughter three years prior. Again, this smile could represent hope, which was something greatly relied upon in such dark ages.

Another great Artist of times past to show relevance of cultural analysis would be Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, a dutch painter and inspiring portrait master. Rembrandt created many self portraits over his life showing an understanding into his own mortality. (You can observe his self portraits through this link (
In many of Rembrandt's work he shows himself presented neatly with an almost grand appearance for the onlooker. His work definantly captures his life in moments, his glazed expression reading into the mind of the beholder. As with many men of status in the 1600's, Rembrandt would be comprimising with society at the time within his artwork. I feel his personality is hidden back into his work, therefore one has to look closer into the image to define its meaning. I definantly sense a hint of pride in his work, he would like to show he was of the better class.

I came across information about this man via the net which showed me other peices of his work that further exagerates his identity into his work. Rembrandt had four children, all of whom died asides from their last child Titus who lived on into childhood. He was married to a lady named Saskia van Uylenburg, who became ill shortly after giving birth to their last child and died soon after. He would paint his dying lover on her death bed, perhaps trying to capture the last bits of her soul before she was to leave him. It is from these tragic events that I can see how the spirit of Rembrandts work keeps within darkness and often refer to religious idolisations. This reflects of what times were like in Rembrandts lifetime. Due to the tradgedy of his life, I wonder if Rembrandt continued his self portrait work until his old age to depict his losses and showcase his inner loneliness. (Refer to information via wikipedia (

If we compare Artists like this to the modern day, we tend to see a great difference in the overall mood. Modern portraits often give an indication that a subject is alive and well - in this comercialised time even emotions can be air brushed. We take many things for granted in the modern world, so when portraiture shows an aspect of someones personality clearly it can be considered somewhat disturbing.

Observe my favourite Artist of the moment, a photographer named Robert Mapplethorpe, who utilises his outgoing personality really well within his collection of work. Many would consider his work shocking, however I find it rather inspiring that he could stand up to society and show people who we are for who we are. His work was very extravagant in the sense he would acceed the boundaries of what would usually be considered extreme to get his message across.

(refer to Robert Mapplethorpe here
and his art work here

Another great "modern" Artist would be Andy Warhol.

Andy Warhol would really capture the time he was living in well, often with political analysis of his subjects. His self portraits were indulged in over exaggerating his appearance, which refers to his typical assosiation with how the media makes you into something your not. The question of "who are we?" spawns to mind.
Andy would sometimes switch his gender in his self portraits, to once again convey how society of modern day conforms to a certain degree of labeled image.

I think by comparing old Artists with new Artists and observing their self portraits I can understand how the human mind has stayed the same to some effect; we just express ourselfs artistically due to our perceptions of the world around us. Its a simple concept but its true, we have come from one depiction to another, where all Artists portray political aspects through their individuality.

Until next time folks
Take it easy

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