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People and portraits

From regal subjects to intriguing sitters: watch films and podcasts exploring historical figures depicted in art.

More from People and portraits (11 videos)

  • Female Narrator: Including symbolic objects or attributes, allow the portrait to say far more about its subject; such accessories could make a statement about a sitter’s identity. Hans Holbein painted this portrait of a ‘Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling’ on his first visit to England, around 1526 to 1528. Both animals were common pets, but here they seem to have an extra significance. This could be Anne Ashby, lady Lovell. The Lovell family coat of arms has three squirrels in it and their family home was at East Harling in Norfolk; starling could easily be a pun on this place name.

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    Introducing 'Lady with a Squirrel and Starling'

    About the video:

     

    Animal symbolism: is the identity of this sitter revealed through a squirrel and a starling?

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian'

     

    Find out more about the 2008/2009 exhibition Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian

     

    More about Hans Holbein the Younger, Lady with a Squirrel and Starling (Anne Lovell?), about 1526-8

    About the video:

     

    Animal symbolism: is the identity of this sitter revealed through a squirrel and a starling?

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian'

     

    Find out more about the 2008/2009 exhibition Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian

     

    More about Hans Holbein the Younger, Lady with a Squirrel and Starling (Anne Lovell?), about 1526-8

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    Quick insight

    Introducing 'Lady with a Squirrel and Starling'

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  • Antonio Mazzotta: Titian depicted this striking portrait when he was about 20, and the young Titian was able to formulate a completely new idea of portraiture. The pose is not static, it’s highly dynamic, so the sitter is turning. As soon as you turn, your gaze is more immediate.

    He wanted to give a sense that the eyes just cross yours, and that the position is going to change very soon. So it’s a moment in time, which gives a sense of immediacy and which is a technique still employed today by fashion photographers. It was really something so new and so revolutionary in this portrait. This particular pose, which is called ‘di spalla’ – looking over the shoulder – became a standard type of portrait for centuries.

    We should think about Van Dyck’s portraits and remember that Van Dyck owned this portrait. We should also think about Rembrandt’s portraits, such as the National Gallery 'Self-Portrait', executed in 1640. To be represented without any doubt, without any fear, was probably what was liked about Titian’s portraits, as well as the sense of physical presence, of reality.

    This portrait was probably executed in around 1511, when Titian was about 22 years old. What is really new about this portrait is that the parapet is starting to drop, so we see more of the figure. This was incredibly new. She’s really dominating. She’s this incredible iconic female figure that can be compared to the great mothers of the history of art, from Mesopotamia to the Roman matrons. Really, she’s an allegory of woman.

    There are several elements that make this picture uniquely Titian, starting from how it is painted. The handling of paint, the rendering of transparencies – like this wonderful veil – and the setting of the light, is also so clever. The light is coming from the upper left and washes this very pale skin with reddish cheeks. Also, this gives a presence of a pulsating animal. In a way this is a final point of his youth, but also a starting point for his mature style.

    Titian’s Early Portraits

    Antonio Mazzotta

    About the video:


    Curator Antonio Mazzotta explains how a young Titian formulated a completely new approach to portraiture.

     

    Featuring Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo, about 1509 and Portrait of a Lady ('La Schiavona'), about 1510-12.

     

    More about the exhibition Titian's First Masterpiece: The Flight into Egypt, 4 April – 19 August 2012.

    About the video:


    Curator Antonio Mazzotta explains how a young Titian formulated a completely new approach to portraiture.

     

    Featuring Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo, about 1509 and Portrait of a Lady ('La Schiavona'), about 1510-12.

     

    More about the exhibition Titian's First Masterpiece: The Flight into Egypt, 4 April – 19 August 2012.

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    Titian’s Early Portraits

    Antonio Mazzotta

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  • Alexander Sturgis: Eyes and face looking straight out of the painting make the sitter forthright, or open and frank. If the head is turned away but the eyes swivel to look out of the painting, as in this portrait by the 16th century Italian, Moroni, the sitter can appear haughty as if he can’t be bothered to turn his whole face towards us. But the same expression can be read as shifty. Proud eyes look at us down noses, like those of this gentleman, also by Moroni. While the same artist’s tailor looks up at us with a deferential tip of the head as if we had just walked into his shop and he wished to cut his cloth to suit us.

    Paintings decoded

    Writer Alexander Sturgis explores Moroni's portraits

    About the video:

     

    An open gaze, a defiant stare, a shifty look: decipher the expressions in portraits by Giovanni Battista Moroni – with writer Alexander Sturgis.

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Portraits: Judging by Appearances'

     

    See more paintings by Giovanni Battista Moroni, 1520/4 - 1579

    About the video:

     

    An open gaze, a defiant stare, a shifty look: decipher the expressions in portraits by Giovanni Battista Moroni – with writer Alexander Sturgis.

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Portraits: Judging by Appearances'

     

    See more paintings by Giovanni Battista Moroni, 1520/4 - 1579

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    Paintings decoded

    Writer Alexander Sturgis explores Moroni's portraits

    Movie
  • [Classical music playing in background]

    Louise Govier: By the end of the Renaissance, portraiture had been established as a thriving art form all over Europe and an extraordinary range of formats had been developed. These were also now available for anyone who wanted their image made; even a tailor could commission his own likeness. Portraiture was not longer simply the preserve of the most wealthy and powerful.

    Quick insight

    Introducing 'The Tailor'

    About the video:

     

    A cut above the rest? How this tailor might have come to commission his own portrait.

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian'

     

    Find out more about the 2008/2009 exhibition Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian

     

    More about Giovanni Battista Moroni, The Tailor ('Il Tagliapanni'), 1565-70

    About the video:

     

    A cut above the rest? How this tailor might have come to commission his own portrait.

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian'

     

    Find out more about the 2008/2009 exhibition Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian

     

    More about Giovanni Battista Moroni, The Tailor ('Il Tagliapanni'), 1565-70

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    Quick insight

    Introducing 'The Tailor'

    Movie
  • Colin Wiggins: But, we are on safer ground here, where the inclusion of this drawing most definitely has a meaning, for the artist has helpfully included a text for us. The drawing shows Lucretia, an ancient Roman heroine who, after being raped, committed suicide, as she could no longer live with the shame, her previously spotless life in ruins. Accordingly, she was held to be an example of feminine purity and virtue, with the words, after the example of Lucretia, let no violated woman live, inscribed on the paper. 

    But, this sets another puzzle, because it is not certain who this woman was. The painting is by Lorenzo Lotto and was made in the 1530s. It has been suggested that she is the wife of a Venetian noble and that her name was Lucretia Valliere making the subject of the drawing highly appropriate.

    Gesturing to the image of the dying Lucretia, she firmly states her own character and her unquestioned loyalty to her husband, but can this really be quite so simple? The manner that she chooses to display her jewellery, for example, not securely attached around her neck, but tucked provocatively down her front, combined with the suggestive fur-trimmed slits on her dress, and the somewhat over lavish wig, might suggest otherwise. 

    Added to that, one of the most popular working names of 16th century Venetian prostitutes was Lucretia, so maybe the inclusion of an ancient example of virtue is after all an ironic joke. 

    Paintings decoded

    Decipher the identity of 'Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia'

    About the video:

     

    This mysterious woman hides many secrets. Is she a devoted loyal wife, or is the painting making an ironic joke about her virtue? With Colin Wiggins, National Gallery Education.

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Themes and Variations: Pictures in Pictures'

     

    Find out more about Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia, about 1530-2

    About the video:

     

    This mysterious woman hides many secrets. Is she a devoted loyal wife, or is the painting making an ironic joke about her virtue? With Colin Wiggins, National Gallery Education.

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Themes and Variations: Pictures in Pictures'

     

    Find out more about Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia, about 1530-2

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    Paintings decoded

    Decipher the identity of 'Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia'

    Movie
  • Alexander Sturgis: The raised eyes of Moretto’s gentleman might suggest a contemplation of higher things but we can never be sure if we’re understanding these expressions correctly. Faces are open to an endless variety of interpretations.

    With this in mind, let’s look again at this young man of the 16th century. The initial reaction to this character is nearly always the same. He looks bored, so bored in fact that he has to prop his elbow on not one but two cushions. His dress and the objects that surround him suggest wealth and luxury. The coins on the table are almost certainly ancient Roman coins and, therefore, indicate some learning but what of the man’s expression? Is this the face of boredom?

    One detail of the painting suggests that this is a misreading. On the underside of his hat is a small label with writing in Greek. The inscription has been translated as meaning; 'alas, I desire too much', but what is he desiring? One theory, built up around this inscription, was that this young Italian noble was a member of the Cesaresco family whose father had been murdered. According to this theory, he is plotting bloody and violent revenge but there were other suggestions. One of these was that the inscription might contain a pun and mean both 'alas, I desire too much', and 'I desire Julia'. In other words, far from thinking bloody thoughts, this is a man dreaming of the woman he loves.

    Both these theories are almost certainly incorrect but the man has changed before our eyes, from a bored, rich man, to a man seeking revenge, to a man hopelessly in love. The latter idea is probably closer to the truth. Documents suggest that the young man is Fortunato Martinengo Cesaresco and this picture may well have been painted as a betrothal gift for his wife but, the point is that, without documents or the inscription, he would’ve remained a bored young man.

    Paintings decoded

    Writer Alexander Sturgis on facial expressions: 'Portrait of a Young Man'

    About the video:

     

    The look of love? Why this young man is not everything he appears to be. Find out more about judging appearances from the Renaissance – with writer Alexander Sturgis.

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Portraits: Judging by Appearances'

     

    Find out more about Moretto da Brescia, Portrait of a Young Man, about 1540-5

    About the video:

     

    The look of love? Why this young man is not everything he appears to be. Find out more about judging appearances from the Renaissance – with writer Alexander Sturgis.

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Portraits: Judging by Appearances'

     

    Find out more about Moretto da Brescia, Portrait of a Young Man, about 1540-5

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    Paintings decoded

    Writer Alexander Sturgis on facial expressions: 'Portrait of a Young Man'

    Movie
  • Louise Govier: As portraiture formats became more varied children were often paired with the parent of the same gender, receiving specific instruction and guidance. This portrait probably shows Giovanni Della Volta and his family with whom Lorenzo Lotto lodged in the mid-16th century. 

    Cherries, the fruits of paradise, provide the starting point for gendered games. The girl plays with their fruitful abundance in her mother’s hand, suggesting fertility, while the boy is taught a lesson in self-restraint, by his father, who holds more cherries just out of reach. 

    The boy’s near nakedness allows us to see his genitals, so that the viewer understands that the family line will continue.

    Both parents curve protectively around their children, the safety and comfort of the family base contrasts with the landscape visible through the window.

    Quick insight

    Introducing 'Portrait of Giovanni della Volta with his Wife and Children'

    About the video:

     

    The Renaissance family: what this painting tells us about Giovanni della Volta, his wife and children.

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian'

     

    Find out more about the 2008/2009 exhibition Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian

     

    More about Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of Giovanni della Volta with his Wife and Children, completed 1547

    About the video:

     

    The Renaissance family: what this painting tells us about Giovanni della Volta, his wife and children.

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian'

     

    Find out more about the 2008/2009 exhibition Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian

     

    More about Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of Giovanni della Volta with his Wife and Children, completed 1547

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    Quick insight

    Introducing 'Portrait of Giovanni della Volta with his Wife and Children'

    Movie
  • Louise Govier: Men as well as women could be represented in terms of ideal beauty and virtuous character. Debates about the possible identity of this man, by Palma Vecchio have concluded that if this does represent a particular sitter then he was one primarily concerned with how close he came to an ideal of male spirituality and creativity. He is the epitome of the dreamy young poet.

    Quick insight

    Introducing 'Portrait of a Poet'

    About the video:

     

    Portraying the ideal: what this anonymous sitter might be trying to tell us.

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian'

     

    Find out more about the 2008/2009 exhibition Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian

     

    Find out more about Palma Vecchio, Portrait of a Poet, about 1516

    About the video:

     

    Portraying the ideal: what this anonymous sitter might be trying to tell us.

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian'

     

    Find out more about the 2008/2009 exhibition Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian

     

    Find out more about Palma Vecchio, Portrait of a Poet, about 1516

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    Quick insight

    Introducing 'Portrait of a Poet'

    Movie
  • Unidentified Female Speaker: Painted likenesses played a vital part in the negotiation of high level marriages. Henry VIII sent Holbein to Brussels in March 1538 to make this full length portrait of 'Christina of Denmark', a young widow he was considering as his fourth wife. The king would have expected that she be shown full face, so that no imperfections could be hidden. He was pleased with the portrait and kept it, even though, perhaps mercifully for Christina, the negotiations eventually came to nothing.

    Quick insight

    Presenting 'Christina of Denmark'

    About the video:

     

    Find out how this full-length portrait was used to introduce King Henry VIII to a potential bride.

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian'

     

    Find out more about the 2008/2009 exhibition Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian

     

    More about Hans Holbein the Younger, Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan, 1538

    About the video:

     

    Find out how this full-length portrait was used to introduce King Henry VIII to a potential bride.

     

    From the National Gallery DVD, 'Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian'

     

    Find out more about the 2008/2009 exhibition Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian

     

    More about Hans Holbein the Younger, Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan, 1538

    Read More
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    Quick insight

    Presenting 'Christina of Denmark'

    Movie
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