Home > C. The Thinker As Hero > Thoughts on the Portrait Painting

Thoughts on the Portrait Painting

File:Bayeu por Goya (detalle).jpg


Portrait paintings, from the renaissance on, are the most characteristically Western form of art. Why? the reader might be wondering.

In the first place, these portraits are about an individual person. They show the wrinkles, bumps, hair, and eyes in a way meant to draw out the personality of the painter’s subject. The goal is nothing less than to catch a person’s spirit. RT can think of no other school of painting that concentrates on the sitter with such singular intensity.

Beauty, character, and pathos–the effects of time are the mark of the Western artist, as is seen in the portrait above. RT knows nothing about the sitter except the year the portrait was made–1795. The background is minimal, the cotton shirt with lace and the silk coat handsome but also reticent. Is there a nod to the simplicity of Benjamin Franklin here? It seems that the portrait might easily have been painted in British America.

But this is the image of a Spaniard, and the signs, though subtle, are nonetheless discernible. RT would guess that this man, once young and handsome, has experienced his share of struggle and grief. Winds of change are in the air, and within the next half century Spain would lose its colonial empire. A sobering development, to be sure.

RT senses an uneasiness, even a fear, in Bayeu’s eyes, and yet the man persists, determined. As is the case with other images from Goya’s work, there is something heroic here.    RT


PaintingPortrait of Francisco Bayeu (detail), 1795. Francisco Goya. WikiCmns; Public Domain.


  1. June 28, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    I agree this is a moving portrait! There’s so much depth. Only a master can model the paint to show volume like that. It reveals a world worn soul too. A camera shot can’t catch it like this! Thanks for the inspirational post.

    • June 28, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      cl: it would be nice if this kind of portraiture would make a comeback…the times have moved on of course, but an approach with comparable substance… RT

  1. July 3, 2013 at 8:35 am

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