Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Riegl on Portraits

Anonymous Lombard painter
Ceiling panel with bust portrait
ca. 1500
oil on panel
Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan

Albrecht Dürer
Portrait of a young Venetian woman
oil on panel
Gemäldegalerie Berlin

Vincenzo Catena
Portrait of Doge Andrea Gritti
before 1531
oil on canvas
National Gallery, London

"Portraiture.  It is generally assumed that a portrait is the maximally accurate reproduction in dead matter of the head of a living person.  Not the same in all times.  Even today the portrait does not fully correspond to that definition.  If any naive people still believe that portraiture involves resemblance, the spokesmen of modern art will soon teach them differently.  Paul Schultze-Naumburg informs us in black and white that a portrait need not establish the slightest likeness.  That is not the task of art.  Photography was invented at just the right moment: people suspected that art would soon no longer satisfy the requirements of portraiture."

Anonymous French photographer
Portrait of a laundress
ca. 1848-50
hand-colored daguerrotype
Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Corneille de Lyon
Portrait of Marie de Batarnay
ca. 1535-40
oil on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Moretto da Brescia
Portrait of Count Fortunato Martinengo Cesaresco
ca. 1540-45
oil on canvas
National Gallery, London

"The portrait must exhibit full capacity for life solely in external optical appearances; that is, it must satisfy the conditions of causal relations with surrounding elements such as space, atmosphere, light, and color.  Whether the individual person is captured  that is, whether the immutable physical presence of the head is reproduced precisely and accurately  is of secondary importance.  When a person insists that his portrait display an individual habitus  his own individual habitus  this is merely an echo of the now-obsolete notion that a person is truly an individual entity.  Such an idea was fine for an antique era, when every person was also a daimon, and for the Catholic Middle Ages, when people likewise had certain (albeit limited) daimonic conceptions about human individuality, but today art has other objectives.  It must depict not the individual, who no longer exists  or, more precisely, is a set of molecules too tiny to be depicted  but the universal connectedness of all natural phenomena.  This art presents its subject not as a physically unified individual but as a complex of optical appearances that strike the beholder's eye instantaneously."

Lucas Cranach the Younger
Portrait of Princess Elisabeth of Saxony
oil on paper
Kupferstichkabinett Berlin

Hendrik Goltzius
Portrait of Jacob Matham, the artist's step-son
ca. 1584
drawing on vellum
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

"Now we must ask: What is the external purpose of a modern portrait?  Portrayal of individuality; the patron, at least, still desires this.  What is art's purpose?  Portrayal of causal relationships in nature.  Extrinsic purpose and art's purpose are thus two separate things; not only do they not correspond, but they even contradict each other."

 from Historical Grammar of the Visual Arts, a course of lectures delivered by Aloïs Riegl in 1899 at the University of Vienna, translated by Jaqueline E. Jung and published in English by Zone Books in 2004

Anonymous English artist
Portrait of a lady
oil on canvas
Tate Britain

Diego Velázquez
Portrait of a lady
ca. 1630
oil on canvas
Gemäldegalerie Berlin

Anthony van Dyck
Portrait of Venetia Lady Digby on her deathbed
oil on canvas
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Jan van Bijlert
Portraits of the inhabitants at St Jobsgasthuis in Utrecht
ca. 1630-35
oil on canvas
Centraal Museum, Utrecht

Juan Carreño de Miranda
Portrait of Inés de Zúñiga, Countess of Monterrey
ca. 1660-70
oil on canvas
Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid

Carlo Maratti
Portrait of Faustina Maratti
Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid