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For several centuries the pose in a portrait served as a key element, and was often joined chiefly with the sitter’s clothing, and occasionally the background, as crucial supplements. These three elements — the body held, covered, and situated — were enlisted to support the emotional meaning of the work. Moreover, the elements were generally in service to the look on the subject’s face. This look was meant either as an expression of a true identity or as a comment on the world (including the viewer) onto which the subject looked. The resulting overarching emotion might embrace hauteur or graciousness or melancholy, emotions that could possess an ironic cast, but were often presented as pure and unadulterated. This complex of emotions is usually what catches us and holds us, inviting us to return gaze for gaze, to repay alert sensitivity with open absorption.

More… “In Honor of Faces”

Charles Molesworth has published a number of books on modern literature. His most recent book is The Capitalist and the Critic: J.P. Morgan, Roger Fry and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (U. of Texas).
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It’s been more than 30 years since Jean-François Lyotard closed the historical door on Modernism. It was 1979, to be exact, when Lyotard published The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Rumors of the death of Modernism had been swirling for years. But death comes in stages, especially when the mortally wounded is a “movement” or an “age.” Lyotard’s book managed to tie all those rumors together and then package the result as “Postmodernism,” the new next thing.

Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields. 240 pages. Knopf. $24.95.

Lyotard focused on the idea of narratives. Past periods, Modernism in particular, had been fond of what he called “meta-narratives,” all-inclusive narrative frameworks that explained everything, more or less. Think, for instance, of Marxism and the way that class struggle drives every other part of the story. Look at the… More…

More "posing" than "standing," actually, but that's the point.

 

“Mannerism” sounds stupid. One immediately associates it with manners. And “manners” are not in the highest regard these days. Mannerism would seem to be a movement of affected and empty gestures, of style over substance.

That’s what many do mean when they use the term. Mannerism has come to refer, primarily, to the group of Italian artists working just after the close of the High Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci died in May 1519; you could say, then, that Mannerism started in early June of that same year. The Mannerists, left with nowhere to go by the transcendent greatness of the High Renaissance artists, had no choice but to become decadent and unhinged.

Mannerist artists like Jacopo da Pontormo thus wasted little time in screwing up the Renaissance. Pontormo painted his figures in crazy contorted poses that would have… More…