Painters, photographers, and law enforcement officers have shown a lot of interest in capturing just one side of us, a side of us we don’t usually see.
Italian artists working 500 years ago and more gave us some of the most arresting one-sided portraits we will ever see. Up top, that’s Federico da Montefeltro giving his wife Battista Sforza the eye, courtesy of Piero della Francesca. And that beautiful face in the round frame belongs to an unnamed Florentina painted by Paolo Uccello (1397-1475). More here
Here’s a lady caught at the window by Fra Filippo Lippi (c 1406–1469). Her eyes don’t quite meet his, and maybe that’s the story here. From this nicely gathered collection of side portraits.
Moving up the road to France and a bit closer to our time, we found this lovely drawing by Jean-Joseph Bernard, 1785, at Vanderbilt University. Just pen and ink with watercolor on paper.
Staying in France for a moment, here is a carved profile of an homme who from this angle seems both aristocratic and capable of beating somebody up. Image found here
This group called Portraits of Lawgivers lives in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol Building. Each of the men depicted is a person who, some say, contributed to the laws that now underlie the US justice system. We think that’s Hammurabi up there.
Madame X, as she came to be called, was an American in Paris in the 1880’s who did well in marriage, generated much gossip, and attracted the attention of painter John Singer Sargent who asked if he could paint her. She said yes and the resulting portrait of her, with her gaze averted stage left, was judged just s bit too, you know. Despite the averted gaze and the “X” everyone recognized the woman in black as “that woman”. See her here now, at your leisure.
Jumping ahead to modern scandalous celebrity, getting your “mug” shot shortly after an arrest, profile on one side and full face on the other, is almost a rite of passage for film stars and musicians of the last 70 years or so. Mr Hendrix got out of the Toronto jail soon after and went on to play another day.
20th century artists like Man Ray rediscovered the power of the sidelong view even when no crime had preceded the shot. This is Lee Miller in his Paris studio. Some of course thought it a crime that a woman this beautiful could also be a talented, brave, and prolific photographer.
Isn’t she lovely, actress Billie Dove. We don’t care what she’s done.
Audrey Hepburn photographed by Yousaf Karsh and, bless her, she turned just a little toward us. From Boston.com
The silhouette was not just a fad, it was an obsession at a certain point. If you hadn’t been caught from the side on black paper with scissors well you just hadn’t arrived. This nice example from England found here
Many got the whole damned family scissored and pasted. This is the Sturge Family, ca. 1820 presented in the collection of the Library of the Society of Friends (The Quakers)
Some silhouettists snipped black images of everyone they met, apparently. Here’s a book of hundreds of them at the Smithsonian Institute
Back to where we started, in Italy, this must be counted among the most beautiful portraits ever produced, and it is amazing how much it conveys while only showing us one side of this woman’s story. Her name is Giovanna Tornabuoni, and she died in childbirth. Painted posthumously by Domenico Ghirlandaio about 1490. She now lives in a museum in Madrid and was recently the star of an exhibition there reported here.
Much as we love the profile portaits we found, we are very very glad that Jan Vermeer (go here) coaxed this lady to turn toward his canvas and to us. Perhaps the gift of her gaze is all the more powerful because we have been deprived of it. Maybe that’s the power of the profile–to increase the appetite for more of her face.