Editorial Feature

A Look Into The Soul of Great Masterpieces

How facial expressions provide a deeper understanding of artworks

Capturing the right look on a subject’s face has been a challenge taken on by great painters since the days of the Renaissance. Eyes are said to be the most difficult to get right, but eyes alone do not constitute a look. Rather a look relates to the whole face, the gestures, the microexpressions and the attitude. A subject’s look is a window into their soul and in portraiture it defines character, feelings and atmosphere.

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (From the collection of Rmn-Grand Palais)

Facial expressions in paintings allow the viewer to understand the bigger picture and in this project, Artistic Expressions, it aims to give you a deeper understanding of the passing glances, exchanged looks and unrelenting stares present in some of the most well-known masterpieces. For instance in great historical paintings inspired by mythology and religious history, a look can reveal whether the subject is a hero or a villain, allude to their next action, or illustrate the relationship between figures.

The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese (From the collection of Rmn-Grand Palais)

Take The Wedding Feast at Cana (1593) by Paolo Véronèse (above), which is where the project begins. The painting depicts the famous biblical story of Christ turning water into wine. Véronèse paints the miracle as a sumptuous feast, where multiple looks are exchanged between one of the most diverse groups of people. You can see the painting in more detail here and then go on to read about the simple happiness a fulfilling family life can bring.

Olympia by Edouard Manet (From the collection of Rmn-Grand Palais)

Moving on from there, the project then explores the range of emotions that can be expressed by certain looks. With the highs come the lows but within the Artistic Expressions project it tackles each emotion in detail, bringing together a collection of masterpieces that cover experiences of joy, passion, laughter, anxiety, pain and melancholy.

Le Temps vaincu par l'Amour, l'Espérance et la Renommée by Simon Vouet (From the collection of Rmn-Grand Palais)
Credits: All media
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