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Michael Cassin, Director, Center for Education in the Visual Arts

When the Eye to Eye exhibition first opened in January, I think all of us—Clark staff, and Clark visitors, regulars and “first-timers”—were genuinely blown away by the sight of so many wonderful portraits looking back at us from the gallery walls.  I would find myself sneaking away from my desk whenever I had a minute to spare, for another peek at a favorite face, a splendid sleeve, an inscrutable expression or a magical passage of paint.  Of course, I’m lucky, I work here, I can get from my office to Galleries 4 and 7, where the portraits are hanging, in about a minute and a half.  But in the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself coming back more slowly through the permanent collection to look at paintings I’ve known for a long time in a rather different light.

Van Dyck’s luscious Study of a Young Bearded Man has the energy and spontaneity of a “live” performance; the artist’s brush has captured the sitter’s features very convincingly, you get the feeling that you’d definitely recognize this guy if you bumped into him in a coffee shop or a bar.  But the tilt of his head and the thoughtful look in his eyes might make you hesitate to strike up a conversation with him; he might not welcome someone breaking in on his introspection.  The portrait of the bearded gentleman by William Merritt Chase on show in Gallery 1, makes use of the same muted colors and the paint has been handled with a similar degree of confidence, but the effect is completely different.

I have always had a special regard for David’s portraits, and the Clark’s Comte de Turenne is a particularly great example, but being able to compare this painting with Baron Gros’s sensational portrait of another successful Napoleonic soldier—the Comte de LaRiboisière—makes you realize how wonderful each of them is in their different ways.  The red-headed young man in the gray fur cape—who looks much younger than his 27 years—seems to wear his heavily decorated artillery officer’s uniform with something of a swagger, like a teenager showing off a new outfit in which he knows he looks good.  David’s painting is more restrained, it’s an appropriately respectful image of an older and more sober member of Napoleon’s inner circle, though the sitter’s tousled curls soften the formality somewhat.

This pairing of portraits from the exhibition with portraits from the permanent collection can be as much fun as the “spot the resemblance” game my colleagues Richard and Kathy have been playing in earlier blog entries, though it involves spending time in both the exhibition and the permanent collection to get your own eyes tuned in.  Comparing Margaret Lemon’s self-confident expression with that of Elizabeth Linley in the portrait of Elizabeth and her brother by Thomas Gainsborough (which I’ve always thought was a little “assumed”—as if she’s thinking “Oh I’m so beautiful and talented, sigh…”) makes me feel relieved they lived in different centuries and were never in the same room together!

On the other hand, I can imagine the sweet-faced Girl Holding a Bouquet of Flowers, whose portrait is attributed to Girolamo Macchietti, might have got on quite well with the young woman in Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of a Lady, painted about 80 years earlier.  Both seem poised on the edge of adult womanhood, excited at what the future might hold but a little apprehensive about it too.

Special exhibitions are always full of exciting discoveries and unexpected encounters with great works of art, but what we see when we visit a special exhibition can also make us look again at—and think twice about—works we think we know well.  I could go on, but I’d hate to spoil the fun for you; maybe you’ll get a chance to experience both the Eye to Eye exhibition and works from the Clark’s collection for yourself, if you can get to Williamstown before the show closes on March 27th.

Image credits:

Anthony van Dyck (Flemish, 1599–1641), Study of a Young Bearded Man, c. 1618–19. Oil on paper laid down on panel, 16 11/16 x 15 1/8 in. (42.4 x 38.4 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.

William Merritt Chase (American, 1849–1916), Portrait of a Man, c. 1875. Oil on canvas, 24 x 19 in. (61 x 48.3 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Gift of Asbjorn R. Lunde, 1980.43.

Antoine-Jean Gros (French, 1771–1835), Portrait of Count Honoré de La Riboisière, 1815. Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 23 1/4 in. (73 x 59 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.

Louis Joseph Trimolet (French, 1812–1843), Deuxième Macedoine, 1841. Wood engraving, sheet: 17 11/16 x 12 1/2 in. (44.9 x 31.7 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1992.2.

Anthony van Dyck (Flemish, 1599–1641), Portrait of Margaret Lemon, c. 1638. Oil on canvas, 23 3/8 x 19 1/2 in. (59.5 x 49.5 cm). Private collection.

Thomas Gainsborough (English, 1727–1788), Elizabeth and Thomas Linley, c. 1768. Oil on canvas, 27 1/2 x 24 1/2 in. (69.8 x 62.3 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.955.

Attributed to Girolamo Macchietti (Italian, 1535–1592), Portrait of a Girl Holding a Bouquet of Flowers, c. 1570s. Oil on panel, 23 x 17 1/2 in. (58.5 x 44.5 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.

Domenico Ghirlandaio (Italian, 1449–1494), Portrait of a Lady, c. 1490. Tempera and oil on panel, 22 1/16 x 14 13/16 in. (56.1 x 37.7 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.938.

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Whose eyes are these?

Take a close look at the Eye to Eye portraits and *see* if you can match these eyes to their faces. Post your answer (a list of the portrait titles in order of the eyes from left to right) in the comment section by noon tomorrow. The first person to identify all 12 eyes will win a special Clark prize!


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By Kathleen Morris, the Sylvia and Leonard Marx Director of Collections and Exhibitions and Curator of Decorative Arts and Co-Curator of Eye to Eye

As Richard has so forcefully pointed out in his last blog entry, the faces we see in portraits inevitably evoke our own experience. It is human nature to look at a face and find a way to categorize it, judge it, and classify it within the universe of our understanding.  No doubt in a highly individual way, a face can remind us of someone we have hated, feared, idolized, or loved. We make mental notes of this sort all of the time, and sometimes express them out loud—“you remind me of someone,” we will say to a new acquaintance. This experience can create a frisson of excitement or conjure a strong memory at unexpected times.

At times Jane Austin has her protagonists, swept up in passionate longing, attempt to “sketch the likeness” of their absent love in the features of a family member.  This is perhaps the sweetest application of the search for familiarity within the features of our fellow men.

As we installed the show, my own sympathies were often caught up in what I thought I could perceive of the specific personality of the person portrayed. I grieved over the short life of Elizabeth of Valois, knowing that despite being born to extreme wealth, this came with a price that few of us are called upon to pay—she was a pawn in a political game of the highest stakes, and was married to the much-older Phillip II of Spain in a way that was “business, not personal.” I hope she was happy for the brief time between her marriage at age 15 and her death in childbirth at age 23. She looks so frail and vulnerable in the portrait by Coello. Doesn’t she, to some extent, call to mind Lindsey Lohan, also favored by fortune yet besieged by the realities of life? Here, Lindsey looks equally aware of her position as a type of “royalty.”

On a lighter note, we call this portrait “Avatar lady.” There is something about the preternatural length of her neck, the slightly alien squareness of form, and the long, flattened face that reminds us of our blue friend. ’Nuff said.

It strikes me that this young man, portrayed here with fashionable long hair and informal dress, may mature into a wise-cracking, hard-boiled character. Or in other words, Bruce Willis.

Parmigianino created a portrait of a man who appears to be slightly disgruntled at our presence. Glowering through dark eyes that also communicate a sense of superiority, he calls to my mind Keanu Reeves in his portrayal of Don John in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, proclaiming: “I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, in this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain. If I had my mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking: in the meantime let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.” Here is Keanu not as Don John, but looking equally stormy.

In the end, of course, all is not doom and gloom, and there are always those who will remind us of life’s more fleeting pleasures. Cranach offers us a woman high-coiffed, garmented, and preened, simultaneously on display, yet completely self-possessed. Hmm. Her attitude and level of polish remind me of Gwen Stefani. Who can resist either woman?

(With apologies to John) There are faces we remember all our lives, though some have changed; some forever, not for better; some are gone, and some remain. We will continue to appreciate the paintings in our show for what they are—masterpieces of portraiture—and who they represent— vibrant human beings from other times and places.

At the same time, we’ll continue to let them suggest faces familiar to us from our own times, thereby deepening our sympathetic connection to personalities captured by masterful brushes.

Image credits:

Alonso Sanchez Coello (Spanish, c. 1531–1588), Portrait of Elizabeth de Valois, c. 1560. Oil on panel, 18 1/2 x 16 in. (47 x 40.6 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.

Michele Tosini (Italian, 1503–1577), Portrait of a Lady, c. 1560s. Oil on panel, 31 1/4 x 23 1/4 in. (79.4 x 59.1 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.

Attributed to Dosso Dossi (Italian, c. 1486– 1542), Portrait of a Man, c. 1510–15. Oil on panel, 12 x 9 1/16 in. (30.5 x 23 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.

Parmigianino (Italian, 1503–1540), Portrait of a Man, c. 1530. Oil on canvas, 35 x 26 3/4 in. (88.9 x 68 cm). Private collection.

Lucas Cranach, the Elder (German, 1472–1553), Portrait of a Young Woman Holding Grapes and Apples, 1528. Oil on panel transferred to canvas, 32 1/8 x 21 5/8 in. (81.6 x 55 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.

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Last night, the Clark celebrated Eye to Eye with a special Renaissance-themed gala, featuring music and mead, jugglers and jesters, and festive fare.

The evening’s entertainment included musical performances by the Williams College Elizabethans in the courtyard and the galleries and juggling by Scott Wieman and Stewart Stewart of the Anti-Gravity Society.

The Clark’s own chef Steve Wilkinson prepared the hors d’oeuvres menu, featuring meat pies, stuffed mussels, mini shepherd’s pies in potato shells, pigs in blankets, apple tart, sherry trifle, and honey gingerbread.

To the delight of the crowd, a whole suckling pig was paraded around the courtyard before it took its place at the carving station.

Despite the blustery winter weather, guests came to the Clark from near and far to celebrate Eye to Eye in true Renaissance style.

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By Richard Rand, the Robert and Martha Berman Lipp Senior Curator and Curator of Paintings and Sculpture and Co-Curator of Eye to Eye

One of the appealing characteristics of a painted portrait is that it brings the personality of the sitter to life right before our eyes. This is true even if we don’t know the identity of the sitter.

In fact, sometimes it’s better if we don’t know who is represented, because then we can project onto the image our own musings and interpretations based on any number of factors—the person’s expression, the tilt of the head, the play of hands (if they are included), even the clothing.

Of course, knowing some historical details—like the name of the sitter or the artist, the time and place the portrait was painted, and so on—can also color our understanding and engagement with these faces. Whatever the individual issues raised by the portraits in Eye to Eye, it’s remarkable to me how alive they all are, demanding that we pay attention to them and invent, if not rediscover, what they’re about. But in the end it is the familiarity of these people, their sheer vividness, that attract us, and make us (almost) believe we know them.

One example of how this can play out: as we were researching the pictures for the catalogue, and then installing the exhibition at the Clark, we began to play a little parlor game, matching up the portraits in Eye to Eye with celebrity faces (invariably movie stars), in the mode of the “separated at birth” comparisons sometimes seen in the popular press. Some of these were more convincing than others. Take a look and see what you think.

I’ll be the first to admit that this one (Ambrosius Benson’s Portrait of a Man by a Window compared to Paul Giamatti) seemed better as an idea than as a really good comparison. But there was something about the mischievous look on Benson’s man that reminded me of Giamatti—not to mention the broad nose and scraggly beard.

Van Dyck’s study of an anonymous young man seemed a dead ringer for Willem Dafoe, and I even found a good photo of Dafoe that mimics the angle of the head. On closer inspection the bridge of the nose is wrong, but the drawn, rugged physiognomy and the air of intensity are pretty similar in both faces.

We all agreed that this was a good one: Rubens’s Portrait of a Young Man seems the spitting image of Steve Buscemi. Try as hard as I might, I couldn’t find a photo of Buscemi wearing a mill ruff, and he’s looking unusually pasty (even for him) in this picture, but it’s still a pretty uncanny likeness, IMO, despite the age difference.

The sweet vulnerability expressed in the lovely portrait of a young woman attributed to the sixteenth-century Florentine painter Girolamo Macchietti called to my mind Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, though I have to admit the hair is all wrong in this photo. But the shape of the face, the full rose-bud lips, and the slightly terrified expression of the eyes collapse the centuries between these two images of girls entering young adulthood.

Bernini’s quick sketch of a head is said to represent his brother Domenico, but I thought there was something about this guy that reminded me of Hilary Swank. So finding a good image of Swank in her Oscar-winning role in Boy’s Don’t Cry, in which she passes for much of the film as a young man, seemed particularly appropriate. Sorry for the weird blueish tint to the photo, but I think the jaw line, the full red lips, and the strong nose are dead on.

This is without doubt the silliest, but in some ways the most satisfying of them all. The trick is to focus on the ringlets, not so easily discernible in this photo of the Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Lira da bracio by a still-unknown sixteenth-century Italian painter, the long face, and the somewhat vacuous good looks. I used this album cover from Frampton’s “I’m in You” album for the obvious (and slightly unfair) reason that it also includes hands holding a stringed instrument.

Now I invite you to take a look at the Eye to Eye images again and suggest your own comparisons in the comments below!

Image credits:

Ambrosius Benson (Netherlandish, active by 1519–1550), Portrait of a Man at a Window, c. 1530. Oil on panel, 16 x 12 in. (41 x 30.5 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.

Anthony van Dyck (Flemish, 1599–1641), Study of a Young Bearded Man, c. 1618–19. Oil on paper laid down on panel, 16 11/16 x 15 1/8 in. (42.4 x 38.4 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.

Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577–1640), Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1613–15. Oil on panel, 26 x 20 1/2 in. (66 x 52 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.

Attributed to Girolamo Macchietti (Italian, 1535–1592), Portrait of a Girl Holding a Bouquet of Flowers, c. 1570s. Oil on panel, 23 x 17 1/2 in. (58.5 x 44.5 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian, 1598–1680), Portrait of the Artist’s Brother, Domenico Bernini (?), c. 1630–35. Oil on paper, mounted on canvas, 14 x 10 7/16 in. (35.5 x 26.5 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.

Italian, artist unknown, Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Lira da braccio, c. 1510-20. Oil on panel, 30 7/16 x 21 7/8 in. (78.4 x 55.5 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.

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By Kathleen Morris, the Sylvia and Leonard Marx Director of Collections and Exhibitions and Curator of Decorative Arts and Co-Curator of Eye to Eye

As co-curator of the Eye to Eye exhibition, it was exciting and fun to delve into the histories and mysteries of the paintings (and one sculpture) in the show.

Each object had at least one secret that my colleague Richard Rand and I tried to uncover—sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

In each case we addressed basic questions, such as: Who was the artist? Who was the “sitter” (or the subject) of the portrait? Why or for whom was the painting made? What is the history of ownership (where has the painting been since the time it was painted)?

These all seem like very straightforward questions, but the truth is that often the only clues we have to answer any of these questions lies with the object itself. Here is just one example of the many questions that these paintings raised. Future blog posts will deal with other questions, and Richard Rand and I will give a public talk on February 20 about some of the thorniest research issues we tackled!


Alessandro Allori (Italian, 1535–1607), <i>Portrait of a Young Woman</i>, c. 1580s. Oil on canvas, 27 1/8 x 22 1/2 in (68.9 x 57.2 cm). Private collection. Photo by Glenn Castellano.

The painting above is now widely accepted by scholars as painted by the Florentine artist Alessandro Allori, although in the early twentieth century it had been credited to Bronzino, the more famous teacher of Allori. At this point, the identification of the artist does not pose a challenge, but the identification of the sitter did.

It’s natural to want to identify the people we see in these portraits, and it’s even better if the person depicted led a glamorous or infamous life. In some twentieth-century publications, this painting was identified as a portrait of Bianca Cappello, the Venetian-born second wife of Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici, whose life story is full of passion and intrigue.

I spent time comparing this painting with other known depictions of Bianca, and while it is easy to see a trace of resemblance, her features simply did not strike me as sufficiently alike, even given the variations one must allow to painted likenesses by different artists.

What clinched it for me is a very simple matter: based on paintings we know for certain are of Bianca, we know her eyes were blue. This woman’s eyes are brown—dark brown. That is not a detail that a portrait painter of this age would change.

We don’t know who she is—but that’s okay! It doesn’t detract from the quality of the painting, which is ultimately what matters.

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