Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Imagined Lives

Last time I was in the National Gallery I was looking at a painting of a young man (by Titian, I think) and I wondered what difference our knowledge - or ignorance - of the subject makes to the way we look at a portrait. As Richard Brilliant points out in his book on portraiture it seems an absolutely standard move to look at the label, often before we look at the picture. But why? It seems much less urgent, somehow, to know exactly which bit of landscape is being shown or which street. Portraits seem to be more connected with their referent, somehow. All of which makes the NPG's new venture, Imagined Lives, especially interesting. Writers have been shown fourteen anonymous portraits from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and asked to come up with stories about them. There's a publication, a podcast, and a competition so you can have a go yourself. Alexander McCall smith has a nice short piece on this in today's Daily Telegraph. On until July 22nd.