On Wednesday, when I was sorting through book donations at the Oxfam shop, I came across the portrait shown above. Not the original I hasten to add but a printed version that had fallen out of a coffee table art book.
I stared at that portrait for a few moments and I was very struck by it. At first I didn't know who painted it or when. I guessed it was created many years ago but the young man in the picture seemed so modern and defiant. It was as if he was challenging onlookers, as proud of his beliefs as he was of his flowing brown locks.
And then I discovered that it was painted in the 1480's in Florence, Italy by no lesser artist than Alessandro Botticelli. It is known simply as "Portrait of a Young Man" and it hangs in The National Gallery in London. Nobody knows who the subject of the painting was but he reflects Florentine pride and at least one commentator has suggested that he may have been a member of the city's thriving artistic community.
In the late fifteenth century, it was customary for Italian portraits to be made in profile only. Botticelli's decision to show this young man face-on was in its time quite revolutionary.
The painting speaks to us from over five hundred years ago and it says - "Look at me. I am as sentient, and as involved in the world as you are my friend. Five hundred years means very little."
It is worth noting that Leonardo da Vinci painted "Mona Lisa" just a few years after Botticelli finished "Portrait of a Young Man". It is very possible that the latter painting informed the creation of the former and hugely more famous portrait. But I like Botticelli's picture better. The young man may have died long ago but through the painting he remains very much alive.
Now I suppose you'll go to the National gallery to have a look at the real thing! It's a little goose bumpy when you stare at something and realize than more than 500 years ago somebody spent a lot of time on the piece.ReplyDelete
I haven't been in The National Gallery in many years but if I do go there again, this will be the first picture I head for.Delete
"The young man may have died long ago but through the painting he remains very much alive." Doesn't he, though? It's very nearly photograph-true, perhaps one taken in a dark or shadowed room. Very well done indeed.ReplyDelete
I am pleased that you are also struck by this portrait Jenny.Delete
I love that painting for the personality it shows. And yes, in the whole scheme of things five hundred years means very little. It is amazing how a good artist can freeze time just as you would with your camera or your words.ReplyDelete
Modern people sometimes think that they are more advanced but that portrait challenges such blind assumption.Delete
Leonardo Da Vinci's biography has been waiting for me to read it since someone gave it to me for my birthday last year. He and the other artists of his time who tried out new ideas, methods and techniques are fascinating!ReplyDelete
When I was in Florence in the 1980s, I had the privilege to see some of Botticelli's works for real, for instance the "Birth of Venus".
If you look at his wikipedia entry, you'll find that the portrait of the young man has several brothers and cousins. Red hats and long hair were all the rage back then among Florence's young men.
I am going to buy a similar read hat and grow my locks lock again. I have also seen "The Birth of Venus" in the Uffizi Gallery.Delete
Imagine if the camera had never been invented. Skilled portrait artists were so important in times past.ReplyDelete
If cameras had never been invented, painters of passport portraits would be coining it in.Delete
When I opened your site, my first thought was that here was a picture of my friend, Lisa. And immediately, of course, realized that it was a painting of a man. But there is quite a bit of resemblance. And it's a stunning portrait. And we must realize that five hundred years in the history of humans is not that long.ReplyDelete
And I honestly believe that my friend may be a descendent of this man or his family.
Could he have been someone that Botticelli loved? I mean, look at those lips...
I think we can read many things into this portrait. It's quite haunting isn't it? And you know that picture was painted ten years before Christopher Columbus first landed in The Americas.Delete
Well I shall add my name to the list of those who have seen 'The Birth of Venus' in the Uffizi Gallery although, if I'm truly honest, Botticelli and his era are not really my cup of tea in general. Oddly not very long ago the subject of the picture 'Portrait of a Young Man' cropped up and I discovered that there were quite of a lot of similar portraits attributed to Botticelli even though the picture in the National Gallery is supposed to be the only known face portrait that he painted. All that aside I am usually fascinated when I stand in front of a portrait and try and imagine what the subject was thinking about.ReplyDelete
Art should speak to us and for me "Portrait of a Young Man" really does...though I admit that this might have simply been to do with my present, receptive mood.Delete
A famous, wonderful old painting....It's nice to see it again. It has been a while.ReplyDelete
Clearly you noticed this picture long before me. Kudos to you.Delete
The kudos go to my mother and grandmother for introducing my late brother and me to all aspects of the arts when we were children....and our interest continued as the years went by...Delete
Lovely it is. Thanks for adding to my pitiful knowledge of art !ReplyDelete