Renaissance Portraits

Topics: Florence, Leon Battista Alberti, Renaissance Pages: 47 (15832 words) Published: May 19, 2013
Five Early Renaissance Portraits Author(s): Rab Hatfield Source: The Art Bulletin, Vol. 47, No. 3 (Sep., 1965), pp. 315-334 Published by: College Art Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 19/05/2013 05:42 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

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RAB HATFIELD the earliest surviving examples of early Renaissanceportraitureare a group of five portraitsof men in profile. The portraitof Matteo Olivieri, which is in the Mellon Collectionat the National Gallery in Washington (Fig. 9), and the portraitof his son, Michele, now in a private collection (Fig. Io), are attributedto Domenico Veneziano. Two other portraitsin the group are ascribedat presentto Masaccio:one is in the Mellon Collection at the National Gallery (Fig. i i), the other in the Isabella StewartGardnerMuseum at Boston is (Fig. 23). The last of the portraits,located in the Musee des Beaux-Artsat Chamb&ry, generally acceptedas a work by Paolo Uccello (Fig. 12). The portraitsare all examplesof a type. There is only the slightest variationamong them in The paintingsare of great interest, not only for format, in dress, and even in facial appearance. their artisticvalue, but also as historicalphenomenaof specialimportance. They are probablythe first independentportraitsto have been producedby the artists of the early Florentine Renaissance.The numerousproblemsto which these works give rise have never been answereddefinior either documentary literary, tively. Perhapsthey never will. We possessno definiteinformation, to vary greatly. As is about them. The critical opinions that have been expressedhave tended frequently the case with things of the past, the portraitsthemselves are mute with respect to many of the questionsthat we should most like to ask of them. The tenor of life of which they formed a part was no mystery to those who painted them or those who owned them, and who, therefore, had no reasonto impart any special informationabout them. That is why, no matter how well we may interpretthem, the portraitswill always remain partly a mystery to us. But if there is little that can be known about any of the picturesindividually, certain patternscan be noticed among them as a group, patternswhich become clearer when contrastedwith those about which we are better informed. We must ask: what affordedby other kinds of portraiture were the reasonsfor the uniformityof the portraits;what were they meant to show; what was their social and historicalbackground? Only thus may we hope to gain a somewhatbetter idea of what they are, both artisticallyand as documentsof the past. MONG


I The portraits appearto have beenintendedfor the use of the well-to-do laity.' Their dimensions are quite modest,2the sitters appearingsomewhat smaller than life-size. Their only attributes are the clothes they wear, which are uniformly alike. A characterizing inscription,perhaps the * Apart from the thanks I owe many others, I am especially indebted to the following persons, without whose help I could not have attempted this article. Mr. Morton Bradley, Jr. gave up an afternoon in order to show me how to examine a painting. Mr. George Stout, the director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and his...
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