Hidden Faces: Art in the Artist’s Mind

This paper hopes to jump-start the process of revealing what has long been hidden: metamorphic faces in the work of varying artists across five centuries. Given space constraints, though, the focus here is on Dürer to demonstrate that he did not include a “face” on occasion but as a fundamental part of his compositional practice. Although no recent examples have yet been shown, in ads or online, the tradition continues to this day in the work of Lucian Freud and Philip Pearlstein, and probably others as well.

Most of these faces are so subtly suggested that on their own there is no way to demonstrate their existence convincingly. Only other painters were expected to perceive them. However, the ambiguity of them is important for both poetic and practical reasons. The practical ones, given that most great paintings in the Renaissance were commissioned and were subject to ecclesiastical approval, are obvious. The poetic ones will become apparent with time. However, the reason why many artists but no art scholar has recognized this important feature of art is probably related to the institutional framework within which academic art historians practice.

Hidden Faces: Art in the Artist’s Mind

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