Portrait Reflection – MG

Figures à la Mode, by Romeyn de Hooghe was the first picture that caught my interest. What immediately grabbed my attention was the man in the middle (who I’ll refer to as the “middle man”) who is well dressed and carrying a sword. He is clearly from an affluent background/a high member of society, given the clothing which he is donning. It appears that in the far left part of the picture there are several other men similar to the middle man. I can’t determine whether a fight is happening, or one of the men is hitting a horse’s butt to make it go, but if you zoom in you can see a man with his hand raised up in the air appearing to be intending to hit something. The most intriguing part of this image is the black man behind the middle man who is also wearing nice clothes. There is a clear distinction between the decorative details on the clothing of the two men, but what the African mans status is still confuses me. Is he a slave whose well dressed because the white men want to make him look “presentable?” What throws me off is other paintings I’ve looked at during this class has depicted African men wearing clothes that don’t appear to be as nice on the man in this picture. This lead me to consider what is actually happening in this painting. I believe it is some sort of colonization/expansion, given the men are well dressed and with weaponry/horses/dogs, it would make sense that wherever they are they want it to be known they are a strong powerful presence. Furthermore, if they do want it to be known they are powerful, they may be dressing their slaves up especially well to show that they have “so much” power and wealth that even their slaves are well dressed. When discussing the portraits of Jan Van Duren and Marghareta van Haexbergen, Grootenboer states, “(in regards to the portraits) their body language may be stately and distinguished – neither affected nor actor-like, but such poise comes at the expense of a performance of a self or interiority.” Hooghe’s painting and the two portraits I just mentioned are vastly different in what they are portraying. But in both cases the main focus of the paintings (in the case of Hooghe’s this is the middle man) look neither “affected or actor-like.” The man in the middle is simply standing looking off into the distance, and this may have been the intention of the painter. As Grootenboer noted, standing and presenting yourself in this manner sacrifices an essence of a “performance of self.” Thus the painting has a level of mystery to it, which I addressed with the questions I posed earlier in this post. The way in which the middle man is standing can give an idea of whats going on, and the background helps to imply more, but without outside information on the painting determining what is happening and how the main people presented in the painting feel is nearly impossible. 

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