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I was reminded of this by a compelling exhibition staged earlier this year at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Entitled High Societyits subject was the full-length portrait in Western painting, from Lucas Cranachwhose paired portraits of Henry the Pious, Duke of Saxony, and his bride, Catherine of Mecklenburg, painted inare arguably the first examples of the genre, to Kees van Dongenwhose depiction of Anna, Comtesse Mathieu de Noailles, as a pearl-wreathed wraith standing tall in a darkened room, was created more than four centuries later, in High Society at the Rijksmuseum, 8 March-3 June Catherine, Countess of Mecklenburg I love an exhibition that makes me reflect upon works of art I think I am familiar with, that makes me see them in a new way, and High Society certainly did that.

In fact, it has made me rethink, and in a sense re-see any number of my favourite full-length portraits — and by no means just the ones that the exhibition actually included — by helping me to understand that the tradition they embody does indeed amount to a tellable story within the larger story of art.

It is a tale that begins, like so many, with a power struggle: In the Andrew graham dixon wife sexual dysfunction art tradition, full-length portraiture actually begins Andrew graham dixon wife sexual dysfunction with painting but with sculpture: Think of those great warrior figures, the Riace bronzes, dredged up from the coastal waters of Calabria; think of the Apollo Belvedere. Vatican City, Museo Pio-Clementino. Of course, such objects lie well outside the scope of any exhibition devoted to painted full-length portraits, but they are the essential background context to the genre, which first came into existence precisely in order to glorify European rulers and aristocrats: Sculpture is the medium to which many of the early full-length portraits aspired, because sculpture was associated with divinity, power and even a kind of immortality, qualities to which those who commissioned such portraits were implicitly laying claim.

Oil on oak panel. Petworth House and Park, West Sussex. The composition is peculiarly airless, occupied by the full-frontal bulk of the monarch, who gazes out at his posterity with steely self-assurance, like a god come down to earth.

Holbein has made a king look like a statue, but not just any statue: Other, more instrumental purposes were found for the full-length portrait during the early 16th century, when the genre first flourished.

Henry persuaded Holbein to paint his prospective bride, Christina of Denmark, in full length: He wanted to size her up, and needed to see her life-size to do so. The courtship, unsurprisingly, came to nothing. Such experiments aside, for a century and more the full-length portrait remained the preserve Andrew graham dixon wife sexual dysfunction monarchs and aristocrats keen to assert their power.

Andrew Graham-Dixon wonders whether it's...

Titian brought new psychological depth to the genre in his portrayals of Charles V and, later, Philip II, presenting them less as gods than as modern Andrew graham dixon wife sexual dysfunction of the hero-kings of classical antiquity: One hundred years later, Van Dyck in turn would impart a new theatrical flourish to the full-length in his portraits of Charles I and his court, posing the king and his wife Henrietta Maria beneath swags of windswept drapery that both aggrandise and, with hindsight, peculiarly diminish them: Swathed in what must be at least square metres of fleur-de-lis ermine, the king stands before us, elbow out-thrust, a gesture which, according to deportment manuals of the time, signalled the god-given right of the high-born to elbow their way through any crowd of commoners.

The rest of the picture is a maelstrom of silk and damask and tassels of gold, collectively embodying the resurgence of the French textile industry — and, by implication, all French industry — under the reign of the Sun King. All this might make the full-length portrait sound like a rather serious, humourless genre of painting, but in fact the opposite is the case; because, like most theoretically high forms of art, it has been subject to all sorts of subtle parody and distortion over the centuries.

When Napoleon commissioned Jacques-Louis David to paint his own full-length portrait, more than years and one rather large revolution after Rigaud had painted Louis XIV, he surely had that earlier image of the Sun King at the forefront of his mind. Whereas Louis is depicted in an imaginary throne room, doing absolutely nothing except look good, Andrew graham dixon wife sexual dysfunction shows Napoleon in his study, working with a nearly inhuman dedication.

The candles behind him are guttering. The midnight oil was Andrew graham dixon wife sexual dysfunction long ago: Napoleon has bags under his eyes. Thisthe portrait insists, is what leadership looks like, after and all that. The new emperor of a new France might be a Corsican from nowhere, but he has worked his way to the top and he deserves to be there.

The full-length portrait, seen as the exclusive domain of blue-blooded kings and their kin, had in fact been subject to multiple subversions well before the French Revolution. Being Dutch, and burghers rather than aristocrats, they must have greatly enjoyed taking on the airs and graces of those who had tried and failed to conquer them.

Thrusting their elbows out at those whose elbows they had blunted, dressed in all their finery and lace, standing or sitting at tables that groan with Dutch cheese, beef and fish, they occupy a genre that they know full well had never been meant for the likes of them.

But it was their country now and they could do what they liked. They had earned their money, and if they wanted to spend it on paintings that made them look like princes, who was to stop them?

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