Today when someone points a camera at us, we smile. This is the cultural and social reflex of our time, and such are our expectations of a picture portrait. In the long history of portraiture, however the open smile has been largely, pun aside, frowned upon. [A] A walk around any art gallery for a very long time will reveal that the image of the open smile was deeply unfashionable.
Such is the field upon which the mouth in portraiture has been debated: an ongoing conflict between the serious and the smirk. Such a subtle and complex facial expression may convey almost anything—piqued interest, contentment, mild embarrassment, or satisfaction. [B] The most famous and enduring portrait in the world takes advantage of this very conflict. [C] So many words, likely in the millions, have been devoted to the Mona Lisa and her smirk—more generously known as her “enigmatic smile”—that today it’s difficult to write about her without sensing that we are at the back of a very long and noisy line in which no one would ever want to wait.
◼ Prior to the invention of the camera, people might expect that their portraits would be recorded only once, maybe twice, in they’re lifetime. [D] Nowadays, however, each of us are recorded across hundreds or thousands, of images, and many of us are smiling broadly. Together, they represent us in all our moods and modes, so we no longer have to worry about if we are being defined by one picture.
This is exemplified in how prominent figures try to ensure that a number of photographs are available that capture the gamut of their emotional range, from troubled solemnity to enthusiastic joy. Royal families, additionally, have been recorded either in carefree, knockabout moments, or in stately, respectful poses. In the twenty-first century these people must be all things to all people, and the modern camera allows for these figureheads to connect with their populace to a much greater degree than they could in sixteenth century Florence.
Adapted from Jeeves, Nicholas. “The Serious and the Smirk: The Smile in Portraiture.” The Public Domain Review. 18September 2013.http://publicdomainreview.org/2013/09/18/the-serious-and-the-smirk-the-smile-in-portraiture/
Royal families, additionally, have been recorded either in carefree, knockabout moments, or in stately, respectful poses.
Today when someone points