On Being Moved by Portraits of Unknown People

In Portraits and Philosophy. New York, NY: Routledge (2020)
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Abstract

In a chapter that hones in on certain Renaissance portraits by Hans Holbein, Giorgione, and Jan van Scorel, Hans Maes examines how it is that we can be deeply moved by such portraits, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that we don’t know anything about their sitters. Standard explanations in terms of the revelation of an inner self or the recreation of a physical presence prove to be insuffi cient. Instead, Maes provides a more rounded account of what makes said portraits moving and memorable, thereby relying on Barthes’ notion of ‘punctum,’ James Elkins’ account of why people cry in front of paintings, and a phenomenological exploration of the parallel between portraiture and the tradition of the Vanitas painting.

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Hans Maes
University of Kent

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