BY THE ERRANT AESTHETE
This article is a recent amendment to a posting, “Fawning for Fame,” by the Errant Aesthete, found here.
Vying for recognition seems to have taken on a new level of importance today. While television fare like Entourage, American Idol, Project Runway, Bethenny Getting Married?, and the effortlessly cool Mad Men continue to preoccupy our vaunted fascination with fame and its accompanying excesses, social networking phenomena like Facebook and Twitter have vaulted the most forgettable of us onto the digital Walk of Fame.
With an innumerable amount of individuals now competing for our attention, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on presenting oneself in the best possible light, no matter how distant the truth.
What’s interesting to consider however, is how this is hardly a new phenomenon. More than two thousand years after the ruler, Augustus, used for the very first time, the minting technique to bring his face to the people, the possibilities for getting one’s picture shown in public have dominated the cultural mainstream.
For a bit of fanciful fun, take three depictions of men all angling for fame and immortality- two from the middle ages (a nobleman and a merchant) and the third (an actor) from the twenty-first century.
Consider, if you will, the valued back story for the middle ages. Although the printing press was introduced in 1440, shifting forever the power of the few to the many, it was the portrait paintings of that time that primarily memorialized and publicized the rich, the powerful and subsequently, the middle class.
Those looking for fame sought out the expert brush strokes of master artisans to transform the unknown and ordinary into a veritable superstar. One of the preeminent and official court painters of his day, the Medici appointed Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano (1503-1572) better known as Il Bronzino, was celebrated as the master magician of the brush. His portrait figures—often read as static, elegant, and stylish exemplars of unemotional haughtiness and assurance—influenced the course of European court portraiture for a century.
Who better than Bronzino to wave his magic brush and usher in an instant celebrity? In a “Portrait of a Young Man” (see above), the viewer is accosted by the arresting and imperious gaze of an unidentified young Florentine. The overweening pomposity is perfectly captured in the all consuming self-important stare, not to the viewer, who is surely beneath the nobleman’s station, but to that private place where only the truly anointed brood.
The elegant young man wears a black satin doublet, with fashionably slashed sleeves, over a white “camicia” with a ruffled collar, accented with a brilliant blue belt. Both his hat and the ties supporting his codpiece are decorated with gold aglets, and he wears one ring. A sign of availability, perhaps? He stands between an elaborately decorated table and chair within an architectural setting meant to suggest a Florentine palace. Naturally.
His refined facial features and bearing are unmistakable, exuding a bravado and confidence that was sure to capture hearts, attention, benefactors and untold riches. One simple painting by the esteemed Bronzino was enough to catapult the young Florentine into the exalted courts of his own exaggerated imagination.
A second study in self-absorption, can be found in a meticulously detailed portrait of a young merchant named George Gisze (see image #2) by Hans Holbein the Younger (1498-1543), one of the great portrait painters of the German Renaissance. Although born in Danzig, Gisze wanted to be presented as a successful merchant on the London trading exchange in order to convey a certain image of himself to the inner circle of merchants in the City.
Holbein creates this impression through his luxurious surroundings-an Oriental rug, a vase filled with carnations (symbolizing his engagement) and the graceful placement of items before him- a golden table clock, and the hand stamp bearing the tradesman’s mark.
The contracts and many other objects surrounding the merchant are meant, above all, to mark him out as an extremely credible person in money matters and a good connoisseur of world markets. This was of great importance during the period of rule of Henry VIII, when trade expansion in England ushered in the first wave of globalization.
Living in London at the time, this portrait helped Gisze become a “Mercator doctus”- a merchant on the cutting-edge of society. Again, the portrait and carefully staged presentation, elevated the subject to the heights of his choosing.
Finally, our third subject-a young man on the way up today, not a hedge fund manager as you might expect, but one whose fates are equally skewed between fame and famine — the actor. With the technological advances of the 21st century, a carefully conceived film designed to showcase the style, taste, panache and talents of the little known rookie is the delivery device of choice in the new world order of media.
The prestigious Wall Street Journal went on location for a fashion shoot recently, entitled “A Place in the Sun,” with upcoming star, indie actor Alessandro Nivola, sharing with viewers, his carefully solicited thoughts on acting.
Naturally, an entire production crew was called out for the sumptuously-styled exotic locale in what appears to be the Hollywood Hills, poolside, of course (a requisite), with a beautiful model (also requisite) in tow, a cherry red top-down Mercedes, a shamelessly cute puppy, and a few other choice props.
A guitar conveys the actor’s softer, poetic side while brightly colored pool floats set the stage for a spontaneously staged dip. Here in the famed hills of Hollywood, on a blindingly beautiful day in paradise, another newcomer has been christened into the pantheon of celebrated self-importance.