"What's with that face?"

I believe that story, no matter how small, adds immensely to the experience of any art. If there is something that the viewer can infer about circumstances relating to the state of the art, or what the art is portraying, then their chance of becoming engaged, or even enthralled, by it increase greatly. When it comes to visual representations, one of the greatest story conveyances is the human face: from a natural sense it is how we are to silently infer the finer details of what another human is experiencing. The face allows for discerning whether a running figure is doing so towards or away from something, or maybe just for the fun of it. I have chosen the works for this online gallery due to the fact that in each, the representation of the human face is one that invites the assignment of story and a cause for closer examination. They are faces and expressions which draw the eye and add a significant layer of expression to the art which, I believe, is not possible through any other means. The first five selections focus on the "Lines" of the face: how the individual elements of a singular face (the focus of the eyes, the orientation of the mouth, the direction the head is facing etc.) effect the meaning the face conveys. The next three focus on the how the relation between expressions on interacting subjects are used in conjunction to create a story. The final two are examinations of facial expressions when viewed within a crowd that act as a single focal point amidst many other interacting faces.

The subject is a merchant scribbling something down in what seems to be his ledger. The lines of importance are are formed by his mouth, nose, and eyes: the upturned nature of the mouth and nose crossed by the eyes, which are focused on the viewer, gives the impression of condescension. The expression is subtle, as if the merchant is confident of his financial superiority no matter who looks on. Due to the dark nature of the colors which frame his head, the details of his face (the pursed lips, the flush of his cheeks etc.) stand out in stark contrast.
In this next painting we are presented simply with a lady as our subject. The main lines are drawn from her eyes: they look off to the ground to the side of the viewer in a deferential manner. They cross over the lines from her mouth and chin, which remain horizontal and do not follow off to the ground as her eyes do. This is an expression that seems to shift on the canvas as it is examined: if only looking at the eyes makes her expression seem tired, even drained; focusing on her mouth alone gives her a bored and uninterested look; viewed as a whole her expression is sad and distant. Each emotion and expression has nothing to do with the viewer, though. Through and through the depiction shows a Lady who is in contemplation of her self and situation.
This self-bust of Jean-Leon Gerome has only one slight deviation in its line: while the eyes, mouth, chin, and head are all clearly unified in their direction, his lone left eyebrow adds a great amount of personality to the sculpture. Humans are very good at being drawn to slight deviations in anything, especially the human face, which is what makes this one deviation so enjoyable. The raised eyebrow says many different things depending on how it is grouped: it is a rather engaging, challenging look if taken only on one side of the face; considering the eyes alone it seems to say "and you want what from me?"; viewed with the whole face it is a rather stoic/heroic statement "I will face the new day as I have all before it, and emerge to stare into the face of the next as well." Such a range is made possible because the bust is a 3D object and has literal depth to be interpreted in.
In this chalk-wash-and-gouache composition the main figure present is God and he will be the subject, since christ has no face and only appears when the work is flipped upside-down. This image is another which shifts and changes based on perspective and relative-closeness to the face. From a distance, the father seems quite menacing: given the dark lines forming the mass of his beard, and the eyes which stand out in stark contrast staring directly at the viewer, make him seem as though he is being the full-on judge of your soul bared before him. "Hide nothing before my majesty for I see it plainly" he says. But when viewed closer up, the individual lines of gouache become clear, his brow seems less furrowed, and the look is more of one that says "I'm looking at you: made in my own image." It is the same idea of being examined, but a very different sentiment rests behind each interpretation. I feel that the piece is easier to view up close than from afar.
In this piece a diplomat, another diplomat, and a politician are present, in that order. Caricature is the style of this piece and it is clearly apparent: each portrayal is a delightful extension of the lines created from the figure's faces. Huget on the far right is the extension of a crook, a figure that is sharply bent in the middle, yet stiff on both sides. The crook splits both sides of his face, his eyebrow, his cheek, and extends to his arm, and slightly in his stance. Maccaire in the center is like the rounded hump of an "m" through and through: his loping eyebrows flow into the center of his face and down to his hooked-yet-rounded nose, while posture and mouth and eyes all have that same rounded-bead like quality which makes him seem slimily detestable. Roderer on the side simply looks like a lumpy, deflating man. Split wholly down the middle, both of his sides slump away from one another and hang on to his figure to make him appear as if he may truly be melting.
Now we move on to faces telling a story in conjunction with one another. In this first painting, it would seem that most of the story is told through the actual bodies of the subject: a stunning young woman attempts to bar-at-arms-length the greek god of love. Yet the story here is told through each's point of focus, and expression worn on their face. The woman seems playful with a slight smile raising the rounded bulb of her cheek, and her eyes focus on the hand of Eros holding the arrow. Meanwhile Eros has on the most serious and nonchalantly determined face ever witnessed on a cherubic body: his eyes stare directly at her face, while his face remains eerily calm and does not show the same enjoyment as the woman's. In juxtaposition I find a woman woefully unaware of just how serious the arrow of love will be when it is thrust into her, and Eros holds no excess joy at the prospect, only a certain sense of inevitability since he has stuck so many before.
Here we see Taddeo Zuccaro, the artist's brother approach the entrace to rome and be greeted by a host of representations in human and animal form. In this ink-and-wash composition is fairly low on the facial detail except for the figure of servitude, who is the gaunt woman welcoming Taddeo. Her face is my focus here because it seems so simple and inviting in expression, yet it encompasses so much hardship when viewed as a concept. Of course she would be the one to come out the farthest and be most appealing to the young man who has appeared, because that is how any who are in want of a servant would accept him as well. From a distance she appears not as grizzled and worn, her form is tall and surprisingly substantive due to her clothing. Upon closer inspection she is far worse off, yet I believe the story here is meaning to convey just that: the effect of servitude can only be fully realized when already within its grasp.
This painting is one of my favorites: it captures the moment a suitor visits the house of the woman he wishes to woo while her sister practices music and her father looks on from the background. The story here is simple and told through the directions of the character's eyes. The suitor is looking directly at the nape of the woman's neck/the top of her chest, and though his bow is polite, his gaze reveals his fascination and intention. The woman is looking out to where her suitor's eyes should be meeting her's, but aren't and seems to almost be gazing into his mind as a result of his mis-applied gaze. The father looks on from the back with his head upturned slightly, which makes his gaze descend upon the suitor and come with a strong feeling of disapproval and dismissal of the man within the instant. The sister practicing looks intently down at her study and pays the moment no mind.
Onto the final paintings which utilize facial expressions as a way to bring attention to a central point amongst a large number of subjects. This Painting shows the moment after the God Bacchus's birth when his mortal mother is being burned alive by the presence of Zeus (Revealing a god in their true form was too much for a mortal to handle). All of the faces in this painting lead to Zeus in one way or another: The attendant on the far left looks down to the kneeling attendant, who holds the baby, who looks to his mother, who is looking to Zeus. The attendants on the right side are looking up to Zeus. Zeus's wife Minerva is looking directly at Zeus. All of the women present wear some form of anguish on their face: Semele, the mother, wears a look of pain and sorrow as she burns; the attendants all wear expressions of shock, disbelief, and sorrow at the event before them; Minerva seems slightly distraught in the happenings almost saying "look what you made me do to these people". But Zeus only wears a face of slight disappointment, as if a toy of his was broken. Most of his expression is not even present since he has his back to the viewer. This setting highlights the perception that human agony is deemed inconsequential when mixed with the affairs of gods.
The final painting in my collection captures the moment of Jesus's capture as his apostles flee into the distance. The juxtaposition of expressions is very clear in this painting: while the soldiers surround, jostle, and cry out at Jesus, he wears a solemn expression of acceptance and understanding. There is a tremendous amount of action and strain which is put into the faces of all of the soldiers, each one is pulling and contorting into some sort of forced expression. The literal lines on their faces formed by the brush strokes move in all different directions. But Jesus has just as many lines on his face, and yet they are all softer and less stressed. This juxtaposition that uses the same elements and artistic construction captures a powerful moment where any hope of deviation from tragedy is lost, and still Jesus does not struggle, but meets it with calm.
Credits: All media
This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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