Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures
Cindy Sherman’s untitled photograph of herself in the guise of a Renaissance woman is overtly disconcerting. Her opulent dress and jewel-adorned hair run counter to her awkward, false nose. Though piously folded, her reddened hands suggest hard work. The coloration beneath her eyes betrays a very real woman, while the classical column suggests an idealized European society portrait. By using extensive makeup and costuming to assume different personas in her “History Portrait” series, Sherman at once references and challenges the conventions of female portraiture.
By emphasizing the artificial and the grotesque, Sherman urges viewers to look beyond the surfaces and consider portraits as constructions designed to serve a social, political, or even erotic purpose. In this gallery, Lucas Cranach’s portrait of Anna Buchner is frank in its realism but reveals little of her personality. The exaggerated opulence of her weighty gold chains and rings serves as an inventory of her husband’s wealth. In the small portrait of Charlotte of France by Jean Clouet the Younger, the richly dressed seven-year-old girl poses as an adult; her portrait may well have served to attract a future husband in a foreign court.
Sherman’s critique is as relevant for portraiture today, in which digital photography enables easy manipulation of images to suit the sitter’s purpose. Read more about the ongoing Art ReMix series at the MIA.