Portraits: two Hans Holbeins and an Alex Katz self-portrait, for the pleasure

 

A little masterpiece of a portrait below.

Look at the edge of his inner garment, perhaps a silk gauze,  gently gathered to join the body of his inner garment to its neck opening, a rolled braid of metallic thread.  A silk outer jacket of two colours edged in black to match the soft black velvet ribbon pulled through the underbrim of his crenellated cap.

Very fabulous.

 

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Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1520-1530, oil on panel.  Attributed to Hans Holbein, the Younger, German, 1497/8 – 1543.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

Less of a hedonist below.  Except for the evidence of the gloves deliberately placed in our view.  Or more probably a money wallet which may account for the somber black-and-white of his clothing and his parsimonious cap.  Even so, a flair remains with the black silk at the cuffs and the black silk underside of a black wool cape sitting on the young man’s left shoulder and slipping, invitingly, off his right. 

No less magnificent as a portrait.

 

 

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Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1520-1530, oil on panel.  Attributed to Hans Holbein, the Younger, German, 1497/8 – 1543.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

Almost four hundred years later and at a time when figurative art was out of fashion, this self-portrait below.

 

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Passing, 1962-63, oil on canvas, self-portrait.  Alex Katz, American, born 1927. MOMA, NY

 

The artist portrays himself almost as though he were made of cardboard, almost as though he were a cartoon figure: flat, monochrome background, muted palette,  pale lilac-grey patches in the face and neck.

He almost lowers over us and almost glowers at us. His eyes, to which the authoritative, no-nonsense halo of his hat brim draws our eyes, have noted us, have dipped, and are about to be raised to observe us again more fully.   We would not dare to think him a figure out of a comic strip.

He is no less alive, self-confident, frank, serious, centered, confident of his place in the world than his painted forbears.

Even if the black ribbon on his hat has stiffened over the centuries;  and even if our culture has been drained of sartorial colour little by little over the same centuries.   And even if the artist feels he has to tell us he is passing, because nobody has time any more, when he is clearly not passing and will be with us as long as we want to stay with him.  And even though hedonism as a life style went out of the window with the Reformation.

A magnificent portrait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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