If you’re within range of Manhattan, and if you hurry, you might make it to the exhibition of Renaissance portraits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The huge show closes this weekend, and I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
Getting your portrait painted was serious business back in the quattrocento, much like Victorian portrait photography, though more expensive, I imagine. No spontaneous poses, no “Say formaggio!” In the early portraits, both men and women were invariably shown in profile (“Do you think they were familiar with Egyptian art?” my companion asked), unflattering as that view was to some of the sitters’ aquiline or otherwise generous noses.
If you think 21st century hairstyles are weird, look at what the Florentine gentlemen were doing with their hair.
Portraits have survived of some of the celebrities of the day.
One of the most remarkable paintings in the exhibit was this one of an old man and his grandson, almost modern in the way it conveys their affection.
Wonderful as the paintings are, the portrait that fascinated me most, in a creepy kind of way, was a cast of the death mask of Lorenzo de’ Medici.
Not only did I find this intimate glimpse of Lorenzo mesmerizing, but it also raised a lot of questions. Have we killed celebrity by glutting the market? Has the flood of new information and constantly emerging personalities made it a lot less likely for people’s reputations to live on? Would you want the world to be interested in what you look like five hundred years after you die? Would you want them to see you dead? How long a shelf life do you think today’s photographs will have? How about the planet?
Some more faces of the Renaissance: