Monday, March 23, 2015

Ingres,  Jacques-Louis Leblanc, oil on canvas 47 5/8" x 37 5/8", Madame Jacques-Louis Leblanc, oil on canvas 47" x36 1/2", 1823.

Memling, Tommaso di Folco Portinari,  Maria Portinari,
c. 1470 Oil on Wood, Two panels, each 16 5/8" x 12 1/2"

All at the Metropolitan, NY

I'll repeat what I've said before about the Memling
If they are wedding portraits, as people assume, then he's 38 give or take, and she's about 14. They're wonderful paintings but their relation to one another seems slightly comic. He looks blank, or blankly devout, and she looks annoyed. She's a teenager. The curve of her mouth makes me laugh. But that leaves the wrong implication. The richness of the paintings isn't separate from their function as portraits. They're not paintings of poses, stock images beautifully made, but paintings of people posing as stock images recorded as they are, as actors. The Met refers to the two panels as "among the masterpieces of Northern Renaissance art" and that has much to do with the tension they manifest between the political and moral, the exterior and interior, the requirements of ideal form and honest, direct, description of life lived, of experience.
"...people posing as stock images recorded as they are, as actors."  Better to say the Portinari are posing without acting. Maria Portinari plays her role grudgingly. The Leblancs on the other hand are performers of the first rank, posing and acting the parts of their public roles, stating directly that this is how they want to be seen, that this is how one would want to be seen,  the mirrored smiles out of one side of their mouths, a double irony: the noble acknowledgement of the nobility of the falsehood.

The Portinari formed the wings of a triptych; the Leblancs were painted probably to hang across from one another, looking on us benignly, from above.

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