The Uses of Portraiture

Agnolo Bronzino: Portrait of Eleanora di Toledo with Her Son Francesco, 1541

From The New York Review of Books:

It is hard, looking at the young Alessandro de’ Medici in Jacopo da Pontormo’s painting of 1534–1535, not to empathize. Long-nosed and tender-eyed, he has a moody Adam Driver gravitas. Though he is looking at us, his hands emerge from his vast black cloak to fiddle with stylus and paper, where a faint female profile can be seen. Reputedly the illegitimate son of a Medici grandee and an African servant, Alessandro had been declared the first duke of the Florentine Republic at twenty-one. At twenty-six he was dead, murdered by a cousin.

The dukedom was the collaborative invention of Emperor Charles V and the Medici pope Clement VII, who may or may not have been Alessandro’s father. A painting of Clement by Sebastiano del Piombo hangs close to Alessandro’s in the Metropolitan Museum’s engrossing exhibition “The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–1570.” Clement cuts an impressive figure in his papal robes, but his hooded eyes slide evasively to the side, and the expression on his lips seems close to a sneer. He looks like someone who would kick his dog, not out of rage, just to make a point.

But history argues otherwise. Another illegitimate son of another assassinated Medici, Clement had the ill luck to be named pope as the Reformation gathered force, and was unable to avert the sack of Rome. (As an outward sign of mourning for this catastrophe, he never shaved again, as later portraits show.) His chief failings seem to have been indecisiveness and a tendency to underestimate his enemies. Meanwhile, the seemingly soulful Alessandro was reported to be “an amoral libertine…so debauched that neither daughters of patricians nor nuns in convents were spared his depravity,” as Linda Wolk-Simon summarizes various sixteenth-century sources.

The detective in Josephine Tey’s novel The Daughter of Time so prided himself on being able to read a face, he was piqued to find that a picture he thought showed “someone too conscientious” was actually a portrait of the nephew-murdering Richard III. Doubling down on the side of the portrait, he sets about proving that the historic accounts of Richard’s villainy were fiction. (Unsurprisingly, the book is popular among art historians.) Whom to trust? History is written by the victors, but a portrait too is an argument as much as it is a document.

Standing in a museum, pondering people and city-states that no longer exist, the question may seem academic, but consider: in 2005 a group of psychologists at Princeton published a study that looked at how voters evaluated candidates on the basis of campaign photographs and how those evaluations correlated to election outcomes. The unsettling conclusion was that, while perceptions of likability and charisma had little to do with who got elected, estimations of a candidate’s competence formed after a one-second exposure to a head shot “suffice to predict the outcomes of actual elections” about 70 percent of the time.

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books and PG apologizes for the pay wall, but here is a link to more history which includes the following portrait of Cosimo de Medici, one of the most important, successful and nastiest of the monarchs that made Florence a wealthy and beautiful city:


During lunch, PG was complaining to the saintly and supremely-patient Mrs. PG about the shut-in world of Covid. We talked about how much we really missed walking.

As a general proposition, PG loves to walk around cities. He enjoys walking in the country, forest, etc., but he grew up in places where non-urban walking was the only option. When he was first on his own in a large city, Chicago, he loved to walk, sometimes during the day and sometimes at night.

Chicago taught country-boy PG that some city places change their character at night, but, fortunately, he avoided any consequences other than becoming exceedingly uncomfortable and quickly reversing his path to return to a better locale.

However, PG digresses.

While PG has had many wonderful experiences walking around American cities, his two most-favorite cities in which to walk are located in Italy – Florence and Venice. (Oxford would rank #3, so it’s not all about Italy. He further casts no shade on Paris, London, Amsterdam or Athens.)

Among the digital files scattered through the darkness amid the spider webs of PG’s hard drives, here is a photo from Florence.

Florence is full of many spectacular architectural and artistic treasures, but, on the theme of walking through a city, PG took this photo early in the morning while wandering around.

This was on a little square not far from the Basilica di Santo Spirito and the Arno River, which runs through the center of the oldest part of Florence, often regarded as the birthplace of the Renaissance.

On the right, you can see a bit of an open air restaurant, in the process of being set up for the day. The man bending over appears to be the owner of the restaurant and the other man, standing beside a small truck seems to be waiting, perhaps for the manager to sign a receipt for various food items that the waiting driver has just delivered to the kitchen.

One of the wooden doors on the left is the entrance to a small shop located next to the restaurant and the other appears to lead to stairs going up to two or more floors of apartments above the restaurant.

Behind the bent-over man, you’ll see another man in a white undershirt who has the look of a cook, standing in a doorway leading into the main restaurant, checking out the scene on the square prior to beginning a long day’s work in a hot kitchen.

The sidewalk, built from stones, has been freshly washed, perhaps by the restaurant owner or maybe the cook, in preparation for later in the day when servers bringing various hot meals from the kitchen to outside diners under the awnings will be dodging through crowds of shoppers, locals and tourists.

Above the sidewalk, you’ll observe some spontaneous power lines reaching from the restaurant to the covered outdoor dining area. In the United States, those might be buried, but few sidewalks in the US are made from thick stones.

Looking further into the distance, on the right, above the awnings, you see a typical Florentine apartment building. Down the street, an Italian Lotto sign, a couple of bicycles and a line of cars jammed onto a narrow Florentine street built of stone long before automobiles were even imagined. Behind the cars, you’ll see an old residence with typical Italian shutters that may well have been built in the 17th century.

In the far distance, you see a line of Tuscan Cypress trees typical of any part of Florence where there is room for landscaping.

You can see these Tuscan Cypress trees in the following image of Florence, created by Alessandro Cecchini during the 1700’s.

Stay Home, They Told Us… Diary of an Italian Editor

From LitHub:

“Stay home, if you can,” they told us in the beginning. And I could. I run a small publishing house from my home and at home is where I have always spent the majority of my time. I was not afraid. I can do it, I told myself. This changes nothing. Then the advice became an order. “Stay home!” they told us. And everything changed.

We live as if a predator roams outside. And no one knows when it will tire of the hunt and move on. Usually crowded with tourists from all over the world, the streets of our beloved Florence are now totally empty. Pigeons and doves and carrion crows, taken aback from the sudden quiet, look at each other in disbelief. Spring is coming but we know we won’t be able to enjoy it. Things we used to take for granted, like taking a walk in the park or paying a visit to a friend, have become a luxury that we cannot afford. This used to be a time when gatherings were welcome; now we are asked to stay away from each other, to be wary of anyone who comes too close. When this will be over, how long will it take before we feel safe again to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek? And where will all the homeless people go while we are busy complaining of getting bored at home?

At least we have refuge, even if it is starting to feel tighter and tighter, I tell myself as I ration food for the week: the less time we spend in crowded areas like supermarkets the better, and in any case only one family member is allowed out at a time to go food shopping and must carry a document with them stating the reason for which they have left home—if the statement turns out to be false, charges are filed.

It’s not a war we’re living through, we have everything we need: food and distractions, books, music and technology to communicate with the rest of the world. But for the past few days I have woken with a drone in my ears. I get up, drink coffee, sit at the computer, talk and downplay things with my husband, make lunch, work some more, make dinner and the drone is always there, a thin veil that separates me from what little I can still see and touch. I am a robot, performing the actions for which I was programmed. My mind attempts to establish contact with a new, static body—for now we are permitted to go out for a walk, but alone and never far from home—a body that does not do the things it once did. It’s the isolation, I tell myself. The uncertainty of tomorrow. The lack of oxygen.

. . . .

The truth is that in this funereal silence—the sounds of the city have vanished, only the bells of Santa Croce articulate my days—we now feel the full weight of our thoughts.

Link to the rest at LitHub

Florence is PG’s favorite city in all the world (Mrs. PG’s favorite as well.)

There are many other cities PG enjoys, but if told he must remain in one place for the rest of his life and given a choice of anywhere in the world (and the availability of quick transportation to visit friends and family elsewhere), PG would choose Florence.

The combination of art, architecture, history, vistas and Italians is, for PG, perfectly wonderful.

It saddened him to read the OP and sense the diminution of the Florentine spirit in this season of plague.

PG looked at some of his favorite photos of Florence and posted a couple below.

Stacks of Wheat (End of Summer)

<center>Stacks of Wheat (End of Summer)</center>
 <center>Date: 1890/91</center>
<center>Artist: Claude Monet</center>
 <center>French, 1840-1926</center>
 <center>Art Institute of Chicago</center>
 <center>CC0 Public Domain Designation</center>

Stacks of Wheat (End of Summer)
Date: 1890/91
Artist: Claude Monet
French, 1840-1926
Art Institute of Chicago
CC0 Public Domain Designation

Another great painting from the Art Institute of Chicago designated CC0 Public Domain

Olive Trees, Corfu

Olive Trees, Corfu
Date: 1909
Artist: John Singer Sargent
American, 1856-1925
The Art Institute of Chicago
CC0 Public Domain Designation

PG thinks the practice of an increasing number of museums in the United States, Europe and elsewhere to formally designate some pieces in their collections in the public domain under the Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain Designation copyright license is an excellent idea that will increase the public’s awareness of some wonderful pieces of art. Of course, no reproduction will have the same impact as the original has, so an anticipated by-product of these policy decisions is to draw more patrons to the various museums and galleries where these objects may be viewed.

From time to time, PG will post additional copies of various works that have been so designated.

PG enjoyed the Sargent painting in part because it reminded him of a lovely trip he took with Mrs. PG several years ago during which they visited the lovely island of Corfu, off the Northwest coast of Greece in the Ionian Sea.

Following are a couple of photos PG took on Corfu. The first is in an ancient Greek Orthodox monastery and the second is laundry day on a narrow little path between two buildings in the old town of Corfu.

You Can Now Download 150,000 Free Illustrations of the Natural World

From The Smithsonian:

Botanical illustrations offer mesmerizingly detailed and vividly colored glimpses of the natural world. Now, reports Hakim Bishara for Hyperallergic, more than 150,000 such artworks are freely available for download via the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), an open-access digital archive that preserves images and documents related to botany, wildlife and biodiversity.

Captured in watercolor paintings, lithograph prints and black-ink linework, the collected illustrations demonstrate the diversity of Earth’s wildlife as observed over hundreds of years. The BHL’s earliest texts date to the mid-1400s; its digital collection includes illustrations as recently created as the early 1900s.

The practice of creating detailed illustrations of flora and fauna, whether to document an expedition or a medical practice, gained popularity well before photography was up to the task. Even today, an illustration can offer more clarity than a photograph.

Link to the rest at The Smithsonian

PG says this might be another source for book covers, illustrations, promotions, etc.

Versuch einer Naturgeschichte der Krabben und Krebse :
Berlin ;Bei Gottlieb August Lange,1782-1804.

Flora Graeca: “The Most Costly and Beautiful Book Devoted to Any Flora”

Title page. Sibthorp, John. Flora Graeca. v. 1 (1806). Contributed in BHL from Lloyd Library and Museum. Digitized by Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

John Sibthorp’s Flora Graeca (1806-1840) has been described as “the most costly and beautiful book devoted to any flora” [1]. Dedicated to the plants of Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, only 30 subscriptions for the first edition were sold and of those, only 25 were completed. While each copy was sold for £254, the cost to produce each copy was about £620 [2, 176].

Flora Graeca arose out of botanical expeditions carried out by English botanist John Sibthorp in Greece and Asia Minor between 1786-87 and 1794-1795. Sibthorp employed Austrian artist Ferdinand Lukas Bauer to accompany him on the first expedition and serve as illustrator. During the expedition, Bauer created around one thousand plant sketches, using a color coding process to record the exact colors of the specimens he observed in the field, allowing him to produce accurate final drawings based on his field sketches [3].

. . . .

Plate 202. Sibthorp, John. Flora Graeca. v.3 (1819). Contributed in BHL from Lloyd Library and Museum. Digitized by Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Link to the rest at The Biodiversity Heritage Library

The Silence

PG has been visiting out-of-state family and apologizes for the lack of  posting.


This is a granddaughter.

PG is ignorant about what she was actually doing in this photo (she was definitely not playing the piano or attempting to do so), but if you are interested in alternatives to cliched pics of cute little girls, you might want to consider using this idea as a template.

Or not.

What Are Criminals ‘Supposed’ to Look Like?

From Crime Reads:

When we got home, our house wasn’t as we left it. We stood for a moment, not yet understanding why all our belongings were on the floor, how each drawer had been pulled out, tipped empty. There was a space where my laptop should have been and there were loose wires hanging from the television unit. Our fridge door had been left open, the fuse had burnt out, our food was turning bad. We were in the middle of an oppressive heatwave.

Such hot weather that, in an attempt to air out our suffocating, tiny house, I’d left a small window open downstairs. Stupid, I know now.

‘Oh my god…’ I said, to my boyfriend, as we took it all in. ‘We’ve been burgled.’

‘Yes,’ he said, flatly. ‘Yes we have. Now, don’t panic, don’t touch anything.’

‘We’ve been burgled!’ I wailed, as I panicked, touching everything.

People say the worst thing about a break in is the intrusion, the idea a stranger has been in your house. Yes, I realised, this is true. I felt mildly disgusted as I looked at my underwear strewn across the bedroom. I pictured a man, pale and rail thin, with a harsh face and mean eyes. I saw him stalking through our house, sweating from the midday heat. At that time it felt so personal, so hurtful. I hated him. I pictured him as vividly as I could so I could hate him properly.

Obviously, I would be able to tell just from looking at him that he was a bad person. Isn’t that how it works? They are different to us. Bond villains have scars, cult leaders have swastikas carved into their foreheads, mass-shooters have that crazed look in their eyes. We find safety in these differences between us and them. When these conventions are broken, when the blandly good looking guy next door turns out to have a human head in a freezer, it shocks us. Shouldn’t we have known?

. . . .

My second book One More Lie follows two adults who are living under new identities, after serving their sentences for a crime they committed as children. In the book the female character, Charlotte, captures the imagination of the public more than her accomplice Sean. Sean is dismissed as “exactly the type” who would do such a thing, an angry child with little adult supervision whose story was inevitable. Charlotte, however, is endlessly fascinating to people, especially the press, as she doesn’t look the type. In fact, she looks almost angelic. Big eyes, beautiful. So sweet. People ask, was she led astray, or is there a cunning psychopath behind that smile?

Sometimes, not looking like a criminal can work in a suspect’s favor. Look at the recent success of Jeremy Ray Meeks, whose mugshot went viral after his arrest for…well, it doesn’t matter anymore, does it? Jeremy is no longer a criminal, he is a supermodel, he dates a billionaire’s daughter. And a quick Google of “hot mugshot guy/girl” shows our fascination with this contradiction.

. . . .

Sometimes, being good looking works against the suspect. Amanda Knox was given an inordinate amount of media attention following the murder of her flat mate Meredith Kercher. In the UK she was nicknamed “Foxy Knoxy,” she was also called, “Angel Face,” and her behavior was monitored obsessively. Was she appropriately sad enough about what had happened? Did she conform to the role of secondary victim, or was she a villain? Either way, Amanda Knox fascinated us and it wasn’t to her advantage. Had she been less attractive, might she have escaped our scrutiny entirely?

. . . .

There were no repercussions for those who expressed an attraction to the idea of Knox as a hot murderer, to the fantasy of a sexy dangerous female. Casey Anthony was similarly objectified during the course of her trial. Both women are now released, they are not guilty, and we have moved on.

Or have we? The Netflix series The Ted Bundy Tapes reignited everyone’s interest for a semi-hot serial killer. A trailer was released for the Ted Bundy movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile (will I ever be able to recall the title of this movie off the top of my head?) starring Zac Efron as the man himself. And people were…offended? Yes, very offended, because Ted Bundy shouldn’t be sexualized. Those women who said he was hot should be ashamed of themselves. We shouldn’t portray Bundy as good looking and charming and we certainly shouldn’t fancy him, or even a representation of him.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

Some time ago, PG went on an unusual binge of examining mug shots of criminals from the Southern California gangster era and other locations at the same time, probably in conjunction with him posting a series of Raymond Chandler quotes.

During this frolic, he decided he might possibly suspect some of being criminals based on their appearance, but wouldn’t have identified others.

John Dillinger


Still Working on the Office

PG is still working on his office cleanup. In the process, he is taking steps to streamline moving papers to their proper files or other fixed collection points and it is taking longer than he expected (Mrs. PG is not surprised).

Over the weekend, PG took a photo of a lovely flower growing on a huge plant which Mrs. PG has named Caesar. Caesar resides in Casa PG and dominates whatever room he occupies.

PG used a macro lens to get close to Caesar’s flower and liked the look of the photo after a few tweaks.



British Country Estates

Yesterday, PG posted an item about Bess of Hardwick and included a photo of Hardwick Hall.

Mike commented to recommend Chatsworth in Derbyshire.

By Kev747 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

One of PG’s favorites is Longleat in Somerset. The house is difficult to see from the photo below, but the view is called Heaven’s Gate on a hill overlooking Longleat.  Longleat House itself is by the river on the right side of the photo.

By Paula Kingswood, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Here’s a closer look at Longleat House.

By Mike Searle, CC BY-SA 2.0,

And one more.

By Saffron Blaze – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Feel free to use the comments to suggest other nominations for the loveliest country house in Britain.

Rose Noir

PG took part of the afternoon off and did some photography.

Fortunately, he remembered Valentine’s Day and made arrangements for Mrs. PG to receive some roses.

The roses were a subject for PG’s photography and post-processing activities.

He’s inserted two of his photos below. The first one received some minor tweaks and the second one is called Rose Noir.

For some reason known only to WordPress, embedding the photos in TPV played havoc with their colors. Click on each one to (hopefully) see the photos as PG intended them to look. The second photo is called Rose Noir.



PG discovered a lovely word this morning.

Sfumato is derived from the Italian word, “sfumato” meaning shaded or toned down.

According to Wikipedia, sfumato is a painting technique for softening the transition between colours, mimicking an area beyond what the human eye is focusing on, or the out-of-focus plane.  Wikipedia points to the painting of Mona Lisa as an example, particularly around the eyes.

Here’s a bit more explanation.


The Flickr Blog has just released its Top 25 Photos on Flickr in 2018 From Around The World that includes several photos that feature sfumato techniques.