Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Man in Black

El Greco - Portrait of a nobleman with his hand on his chest
Museo del Prado, Madrid
I have just been re-reading Anne Hollander's Seeing Through Clothes. It's a art-history of European fashion. In it, she mentions this portrait, as an illustration of the history of wearing black, especially with white details. Along with the influence of fashionable clothes on how people paint nudes, and the interaction of how people dress with how they imagine themselves.

In my paperback, this picture is reproduced poorly and in black and white, and I can't tell whether it supports her argument or not.

But now, with a little bit of searching, I can find the picture at its home, the Museo del Prado, Madrid. I can not only see this full-colour reproduction on the left, but zoom to an ultra-high-resolution photograph of the work, and study the wonderful fluid brush-work of the lace, the discreet whorls and touches of colour that suggest the brocaded pattern and the shinyness of the tunic, the transparent blues and yellows of the skin, the confident, airy delicacy of the sword-hilt.

On the same page I can read a description of the work, with a theory about who this man is, and listen to the audioguide with two voices discussing the fame of this picture and how it is seen as embodying an idea of Spanishness.

And not only that - for the very reasonable sum of €10 plus shipping I could order a very high quality A4-sized print (A3 is €20) of the picture for my own personal album of interesting pictures, supposing I had one, perhaps I should, and peruse it on the sofa. I love that museums do this. The National Gallery does it too.

I am just old enough, I suppose, to still think that's amazing. Also, I don't know exactly why he chose these clothes, but I think he looks very serious and very sexy.


francoise_hardy said...

I love pictures like that - oddly modern in their simplicity. Reminds me a bit of Bacon.

Timely post. I'm watching Black Swan and thinking about cultural attitudes to colour. Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, etc. Theres definitely something cool and dangerous about black.

msHedgehog said...

I think I just love good portraits. I'm fascinated. I remember being blown away by this one when I was 21, briefly alone in Vienna - it has a tremendous living presence which the photograph doesn't really show. It's another Holbein, but nobody knows who the sitter was.

You'd like the book I think - it discusses various conflicting meanings for black and how they manage to exist at different times and at the same time, with lots more lovely examples. She's also fascinating on the subject of nudity.