As the summer winds down, I’m keeping my promise to post another selection of portraits of historical gentlemen that might deserve a heroic place on some future cover.
Many writers (and probably more than a few readers as well) keep pictures of actors, musicians, athletes, and other assorted handsome fellows to serve as inspiration as they create their male characters. Personally, I’ve never been able to link to Hollywood or BBC faces –– no matter how gorgeous they may be, or skilled as actors, they always strike me somehow as too “modern”, too much a part of our time and not the past.
I remember seeing an interview with the director of the Master and Commander, (the movie based on the glorious Patrick O’Brian novels), and how he sent his casting director all over the world to find the right faces to fill Jack Aubrey’s crew of sailors. He believed that most modern Americans and English have an acquired sense of how to present themselves to a camera, including that infamous fixed smile that we all learn from infancy onward. He wanted men who’d never learned that kind of awareness, men with the same kind of media-innocence that an early 19th century English sailor would have had, and to find it, he’d proudly drawn most of his extras from remote villages in central Europe. Of course I wondered what happened once he put his untutored innocents on a movie set with Russell Crowe as their captain, but hey, I appreciate what he was trying to do.
For me, paintings from the era of my story can set all kinds of cogs and wheels spinning in my imagination. Portraits in particular can inspire me: truly, as the old saying goes, one pictures can be worth a thousand words.
So here’s the second half of my summer “gallery” –– plus a special bonus at the end.
Charles Paget was one of those famous younger sons of an earl who “made good”, beginning a career in the Royal Navy at twelve, making captain of a sloop-of-war before his twentieth birthday, and after a celebrated career, finally becoming a vice-admiral and serving as a member of Parliament. He also seems to have worn those golden epaulets with stylish aplomb.
Reader Virginia mentioned this double-portrait in response to my last blog, and my lament about how few blonde men were to be found in portraits of the past. I’d already planned to use this one, but Virginia, you get credit, too! J Blonde these two brothers certainly were, and obviously proud of their flowing golden locks. Younger sons of the Duke of Lennox, they sat for this picture shortly before going to Europe for a three-year finish to their education as young gentlemen. They seem destined for long lives of happy privilege, but alas, Oliver Cromwell and the English Civil Wars had other plans. Both brothers served in Charles I’s royalist army, and both were killed in action in their early twenties.
Wench Susan King (far more knowledgable in Northern European art history than I!) suggested this self-portrait of the German artist as another example of a fair-haired man. Durer had just returned from his first, dazzling trip to Italy, and the influence of the gaudy south is clear not only in the pose he chose for himself, but in his elegant, stylish dress –– and check out the jaunty black-and-white cap! I know his side-long glance resulted from studying his own reflection, but I still like the way it gives his expression a certain cynical watchfulness. Legend has it that this portrait was considered such an excellent likeness that Durer’s dog barked in recognition when he saw it. Whether that’s true or not, it’s a striking picture of a striking man.
Later in his life, William Lamb would rise to become Prime Minister, but in this portrait he’s shown as romantically windswept. There’s a certain fashionable, haunted melancholy in his eyes, and he has good reason for it, too: around the time Lamb sat for Lawrence, he wed the famously unstable poet Lady Caroline Lamb, marking one of the most doomed marriages in English history. The main reason for this marital disaster, of course, is the gentleman below, Lord Byron, Lady Caroline’s notorious lover.
Ahh, who doesn’t know Lord Byron. the quintessential romantic bad-boy hero, so perfectly described by Lady Caroline Lamb as being “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”? He was always on my list, but thanks to both Tal and Wench Loretta for suggesting him as well. Byron was a celebrity before there were celebrities, as famous for his wild living, extravagant debts, international exploits, and love affairs as he was for his writing. No wonder he was nearly irresistible to women and men alike: that profiles says it all.
Okay, so this isn’t exactly fine art, but surely Michael Phelps deserves a place in this list for making history as well as living it? Beyond all those record-setting Olympic gold medals, he’s already demonstrated a fierce determination to strive for his personal best coupled with a humble charm in the middle of the media circus. He’s devoted to his mom, his sisters, and his bulldog, and he’s not afraid to cry during the National Anthem. Not bad for only twenty-three!
So do any of these gentlemen inspire you? Or do you “see” a more contemporary face (Clark Gable, Johnny Depp, James McAvoy, Javier Bardem) while you read or write?
And ‘fess up, along with me: did you put aside books this week in favor of watching the Olympics?