What did sitter and artist seek to communicate when portraying a woman as if gliding through the Piazza San Marco in stylish, vibrant garb? In what ways did an artist push the boundaries of decorum when he depicted himself playfully inserting his finger through the nasal cavity of a skull? More broadly, does a viewer’s recognition of a sitter mean that a painting’s primary function is that of a portrait, or could the artist have other objectives for such work? These questions and more steer this investigation of the human visage as seen through Dutch and Flemish portraits and character studies (tronies) of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In this gallery of faces, visitors are greeted by men and women, old and young, who share information about themselves through their clothing, attributes, facial expression, and carriage. Each poses questions: how do we engage with them, which do we favour, and why? Appropriately, a portrait of René Descartes, the philosopher whose dictum, “I think, therefore I am,” characterized the subjectivity of the seventeenth century, reinforces this examination of the individual experience of early modern life.
As of 29 April, the exhibition will be enlivened by the installation of the newest gift from Drs Alfred and Isabel Bader, Rembrandt van Rijn’s Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo of 1658. The bold assertion of self in this portrait makes for a dynamic dialogue with other aspects of identity-fashioning on view in the exhibition.
Drawing primarily from The Bader Collection, this exhibit is co-curated by Dr Stephanie S. Dickey, Bader Chair in Northern Baroque Art in the Department of Art History and Conservation, Queen’s University and Dr Jacquelyn N. Coutré, Bader Curator/Researcher of European Art.