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Topic 3

Topic 3

First, watch the following short video,
“Etre-là: Zanele Muholi”:

Pair 1: Zanele Muholi and Frida Kahlo
Zanele Muholi

I. For the series “Faces and Phases,” artist Zanele Muholi used
portraiture to document the presence of LGBTQ people in South
Africa, the first nation to acknowledge and include protection for
this community in its constitution. Portraiture is a subject type in
which the identity of the subject is the most important aspect of the
work of art.

In spite of the constitutionally protected status of the LGBTQ
community in South Africa, widespread homophobia has led to
acts of violence upon many black lesbians and others who identify
as LGBTQ. Zanele Muholi titled each portrait with the subject’s
name and the location where each was photographed. Each
portrait was meant to be a document of the existence of the

Zanele Muholi

Xana Nyilenda, Newtown, Johannesburg
From the “Faces and Phases” series


Gelatin silver print

II. Zanele Muholi’s answer to the different forms of violence
enacted upon members of this community is to increase the
visibility of those who identify as LGBTQ in South Africa. In the
portrait Xana Nyilenda, Newtown, Johannesburg, the artist
manipulated photographic equipment to create a sharp, highly
detailed portrait. The implied texture, that is, the illusion of
variation on the surface of the image, especially the details of the
subject’s t-shirt and leather jacket, aids viewers in seeing Xana
Nyilenda as possessing a strong material presence and reality,
defying attack or erasure.

Frida Kahlo

I. Unlike Zanele Muholi, who uses portraiture to document the
lives of people, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo painted people and
objects “just as I saw them with my own eyes and nothing more”.
Even so, in her Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair the artist offered
direct access to her identity. For this self-portrait, which refers to a
portrait of an artist created by the artist herself, Frida Kahlo
represented herself seated, looking directly at the viewer. The
details of surfaces are less important than the artist’s need for the
viewer to notice and consider the range of objects included in the
picture plane: a pair of scissors, hair strewn on the floor, a bright
yellow chair, an oversized man’s suit, and musical notes and lyrics
hovering above the artist.

Frida Kahlo

Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair


Oil on canvas

II. Largely self-taught, Frida Kahlo is often labeled a Surrealist.
Surrealism refers to a historical period in the 1920s and 1930s
during which artists produced imagery stemming from their
subconscious or unconscious selves, including imagery from
dreams. Whether or not Frida Kahlo applied this label to her work,
she exhibited her work with Surrealists. Viewers were not meant to
see Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair as a document of a specific
event. Rather, the artist communicated her state of mind while
making this self-portrait. The song at the top of the picture plane
offers a clue as to the tone this work was meant to achieve: “Look,
if I loved you it was because of your hair. Now that you are
without hair, I don’t love you anymore.”

Pair 1

Analysis Exercises: Pair 1
Exercise 1: Observing works by Zanele Muholi and Frida Kahlo
side by side, consider the use of clothing as an aspect of the
identity of each subject. How have you used clothing to convey
aspects of your own identity when posing for portraits?

Exercise 2: If you were to produce a self-portrait, what objects or
props would you include in the picture plane?

Exercise 3: Both images are intended to communicate aspects of
violence. Zanele Muholi portrays Xana Nyilenda to face and
eventually overcome violence against the LGBT community in
South Africa. Frida Kahlo represented herself enacting violence on
her own hair. Take a few minutes to find additional portraits or
self-portraits online. How typical is it for portraiture to contain a
reference to violence?

Pair 2: Unidentified artists from Fayum and Ravenna

Unidentified artist from Fayum

I. Nearly for as long as people have been making art, people
have been making portraits. The ancient Egyptians found it
necessary to attach a portrait of a deceased person to her or his
mummy: the preserved body wrapped in cloths, because they
believed that an individual’s life force would go on living after
death, and regularly needed to reunite with the body. Hundreds of
portraits still attached to mummies have been found buried at the
Egyptian oasis of Fayum.

Unidentified artist from Fayum



Encaustic on wood

II. The portrait of a woman named Isidora made by an
unidentified painter at Fayum was produced by means of a
painting technique called encaustic, in which soft wax is mixed
with pigment (ground minerals or plant matter) then brushed onto
a wooden support. Such a technique was difficult to master but
permanent, since the sticky wax adhered well to wood. A skilled
artist using the encaustic technique could produce portrait
likenesses in great detail. Isidora’s golden headpiece, as well as
her earrings, indicate that she was an elite, like the others at
Fayum who were sufficiently wealthy to be mummified and have
their portraits attached to their mummy.

Unidentified artist from Ravenna

I. A mosaic is made by embedding small pieces of stone or
glass in cement, on surfaces such as walls or floors, and was a
widely used technical process throughout the period of the
Roman Empire. Later, during the sixth century, when the Emperor
Justinian and the Empress Theodora ruled over Byzantium, a
territory roughly equivalent with that which had been ruled by the
ancient Romans, an unidentified artist designed a representation
of the empress to be constructed on the wall of San Vitale, a
church in Ravenna, Italy. In this mosaic, Theodora is depicted as
participating in the Christian ceremony of the Eucharist (also
called “communion” or “mass”) which celebrates the death and
resurrection of Jesus. Robed in purple at the center of the
composition, she holds a ceremonial cup of wine.

Unidentified artist from Ravenna

Empress Theodora Participating in a Ceremony
San Vitale, Ravenna

c. 526-547


II. More than most technical processes of art making, a
mosaic has actual texture: physical surface variation. If a mosaic
is constructed on the floor, the variation in the surface diminishes
over time, since it is walked on, and eventually becomes worn
smooth. But the mosaic depicting the Empress Theodora
participating in a church ceremony was constructed on a wall at
San Vitale, and as such it has retained its textured surface. If
someone holding a candle were to stand near the mosaic, the
tiny pieces of colored stone or glass used to construct it would
reflect the candlelight unevenly, since the surface of this work of
art is highly textured.

Pair 2

Analysis Exercises: Pair 2

Exercise 1: Look closely at each image. What can you determine
about the social status of Isidora from her portrait? Is she wealthy?
Is she poor? What can you determine about the social status of
Theodora from her portrait?

Exercise 2: The artist who painted Isidora likely met his subject.
What in the portrait itself suggests this? The artist who designed the
mosaic of Theodora did not likely meet his subject. How does the
portrait suggest this?

Exercise 3: If you were going to ask an artist to make a portrait of
someone you care about, would you prefer that the artist work
with encaustic paint or produce a mosaic? Explain your choice.

Pair 3: Amy Sherald and Joshua Reynolds

Amy Sherald

I. In March of 2020, twenty-six year old Breonna Taylor was killed
while sleeping in her bed in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky. She
was shot by law enforcement officers when they entered her home
during a failed narcotics raid. The tragedy of Breonna Taylor’s death
became a matter of intense public outrage. Artist Amy Sherald, the first
African-American artist to win the Outwin Boochever Portrait
Competition at the National Portrait Gallery, was asked by a guest
editor at the magazine Vanity Fair to produce a portrait of Taylor.

The recipient of a heart transplant, Amy Sherald is immuno-
compromised. For this reason she had been unable to participate in
Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020. In a published
interview with Vanity Fair, Sherald referred to this portrait of Taylor as
her way of contributing to the “moment and to activism—producing
this portrait keeps Breonna alive forever.”

”I also made this portrait for her family,” said Sherald. “I mean,
of course I made it for Vanity Fair, but the whole time I was thinking
about her family.” Sherald normally makes physical studies of
people whose portraits she constructs, but she did not have this
opportunity with Taylor, since this is a posthumous portrait, that is,
a portrait made after the death of the subject. Instead, Sherald
talked to Taylor’s friends and family. She learned, for example, that
Taylor’s boyfriend had been planning to propose marriage. Taylor
wears an engagement ring in Sherald’s portrait.

Once the painting was finished, it was photographed and
printed by means of lithography as the magazine’s cover for the
September 2020 issue, six months after the death of Breonna Taylor.
But what would happen to Sherald’s original painting?

Amy Sherald

Breonna Taylor


Oil on linen

Like many professional artists today, Amy Sherald works with a
private gallery to sell her work to individuals or institutions. (Most
galleries retain half of the sale of a work of art if they can identify
a buyer for it.) But in the case of this portrait of Breonna Taylor,
Sherald worked with nonprofit arts organizations to place the
painting at museums who have made a commitment to share it
with the public: the National Museum of African American History
and Culture at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and The
Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Taylor’s home town. A nonprofit
arts organization is a group who use their resources not to make
money but to further specific causes or goals. The nonprofit arts
organizations which helped Sherald find museums to share the
responsibility of keeping this work in the eye of the public are the
Ford Foundation and the Hearthland Foundation.

Joshua Reynolds

I. Completed soon after becoming the first president of
Britain’s Royal Academy of Arts in London, Joshua Reynolds
painted The Archers not to sell but to exhibit at the annual
exhibition of the new academy. Exhibitions, that is, public
displays of works of art, were the primary ways that academic
artists like Reynolds attracted public attention to their work. A
portrait of two friends, this painting remained in Reynolds’s studio
until the death of Colonel Acland, pictured on right. In 1779, the
colonel’s widow, Lady Harriet Acland, purchased the painting
from Reynolds.

Joshua Reynolds

Colonel Acland and Lord Sydney:
The Archers


Oil on canvas

II. In The Archers, Reynolds represents two friends, Lord
Sydney and Colonel Acland, as hunters within an extensive
landscape. To achieve this, he relies on a strong sense of
foreground and background. In the foreground, the part of the
landscape closest to the viewer, he places the friends in a thick
grove of trees, along with the animals they have killed during the
hunt. Reynolds achieved the illusion of depth receding into the
landscape by opening up the trees to offer a glimpse of the land
in the background, the part of the landscape behind the subjects.

Angelica Kauffman arranged Cornelia, Mother of the Gracci
(recall chapter 2) with similar attention to foreground and
background. Recall that it was Joshua Reynolds who invited
Angelica Kauffman to become a founding member of the British
Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Pair 3

Analysis Exercises: Pair 3

Exercise 1: In what ways did the makers of both portraits
succeed in representing real people, while at the same time
suggesting a sense of timelessness about them?

Exercise 2: The portrait by Joshua Reynolds includes a strong
presence of the natural environment. Why do we call it a
portrait rather than a landscape?

Exercise 3: Both portraits were painted in oil, a medium
which gives artists great potential for mixing the exact colors
they want to convey. With this in mind, describe each artist’s
approach to color.

Pair 4: Lina Bo Bardi and Thomas Jefferson

Lina Bo Bardi

I. Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi completed her university
training as an architect in 1939, opened a professional studio in
1942, and oversaw the realization of one of her designs for the
first time in 1950: The Glass House, built in the rain forest outside
of São Paulo, Brazil. A proponent of rationalist architecture, that
is, an approach to architectural design and construction which
values efficiency, visual simplicity, and practical function, Lina Bo
Bardi also worked as an illustrator, journalist, and administrator
for prominent magazines such as Domus and Habitat. Prior to
moving to South America, she traveled throughout war-torn Italy,
advocating for reconstruction.

Lina Bo Bardi

The Glass House
Morumbi, São Paulo, Brazil


Concrete and glass

II. Lina Bo Bardi’s efforts at raising public awareness for
postwar reconstruction in Italy eventually served as the basis for a
prominent architectural career in Brazil, where she oversaw the
transformation of several existing buildings into museums, a
theatre, and a community center. For herself and her husband she
designed The Glass House, a structure composed of concrete
slabs and glass walls set on a hillside. The architect raised the
house on pilotis: piers that elevate a building above the ground or
water. The use of pilotis allowed the couple to live up amongst the
trees. An intensely personal project, Lina Bo Bardi described the
house as “an attempt to arrive at a communion between nature
and the natural order of things; I look to respect this natural order,
with clarity, and never liked the closed house that turns away from
the thunderstorm and the rain, fearful of all men.” She lived in the
house for four decades.

Thomas Jefferson

I. Lina Bo Bardi’s Glass House and the Virginia home that
Thomas Jefferson designed for himself and his family, Monticello,
may be linked to the practice of self-portraiture, since both
projects emphasized the values of the architect residents.
Jefferson’s Monticello was informed by his engagement in the Age
of Enlightenment: a seventeenth and eighteenth century cultural
movement which prioritized pursuits of reason, science, and
individual liberty. Jefferson had begun construction on his home
prior to relocating to France in the 1780s, where he served as U.S.
ambassador. Upon being exposed to Neoclassicism (recall
chapter 2), wherein architectural design was inspired by ancient
Greek and Roman forms, Jefferson redesigned Monticello to
reflect the ideals of his Enlightenment education.

Thomas Jefferson

Charlottesville, Virginia

begun 1792; redesigned 1796-1809


II. In the truest sense of the word, Thomas Jefferson was an
amateur architect. The word amateur has its roots in the Latin verb
amare: to love. An amateur is one who engages in an activity not
as a result of financial necessity but because she or he is
passionate about that activity. Often called “the architect of the
Declaration of Independence,” Jefferson approached the practice
of architecture with a degree of seriousness similar to his devotion
to political ideas. In addition to designing Monticello, he also
designed the campus of the University of Virginia, the Virginia
State Capitol, and his vacation home, Poplar Forest—structures
which are nationally protected and widely considered to be
among the most accomplished examples of architectural design in
the United States in the nineteenth century.

Few people have the resources to practice architecture as an
amateur, but Jefferson inherited the land on which he built
Monticello as well as most of the slaves who provided the labor to
build it.

Analysis Exercises: Pair 4

Exercise 1: In what ways may Lina Bo Bardi’s Glass House
and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello be linked to the subject
category of portraiture?

Exercise 2: Consider that both houses are located within
heavily forested areas. What are the similarities and
differences of The Glass House and Monticello? Are there
more similarities or differences between these structures?

Exercise 3: Which house would you rather live in: The Glass
House or Monticello, and why?

Pair 4

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