Yes, it’s officially hot now, the first day of August and the true dog days of summer. Too hot for a serious blog, one with heavy history, thoughtful commentary, or even a random rant. No more shameless self-promotion for The King's Favorite, either (except to say that it's still available, and to thank all of you who've told me how much you've enjoyed it.) Nope, at this time of year, it’s better to go straight to pictures.
Specifically, pictures of hot historical (or should that be historically hot?) men.
I can’t be the only one who often finds the heroes on the covers of historical romances somewhat . . . lacking. They’re supposed to be men from the past, yet with their gym-honed abs, waxed chests and brows, and blown-dry hair, most of the time they look far more at home in a club in South Beach than an English country house.
So for my August blogs, I’m once again dusting off my under-used art history education to offer a selection of gentlemen whose handsome, confident (and more accurate) faces could be substituted for those callow cover-models: six this week, and six more at the end of the month.
It's interesting how, in light of Wench Edith's recent blog, how few blonde men appear in portraits, and even fewer handsome ones. True, by nature they are more rare, and, as Wench Susan/Sarah pointed out, the varnishes and oils used in paintings have often darkened over time, and the subjects' hair with it. Fashion has always played its part as well. When the reigning monarch (whether Charles II or Victoria) was brunette, then dark hair also ruled. For whatever reason, even men whose contemporaries refer to as fair-haired are often shown in portraits as brunettes. Apparently our much-loved golden boys belong more to our modern Clairol times than the past.
My choices below are entirely personal too; please feel free to disagree with me, or suggest others. This isn't a contest or a puzzle, and there aren't any right or wrong answers. As the tabloids say, it's just an excuse to show the eye-candy. *G*
Charles-Joseph-Laurent Cordier (1777-1870, painted in 1810 by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres) left
With a face as knowing and world-weary as this, it can’t be mere coincidence that the gentleman (a high-ranking French official stationed in Rome) shares the surname of Loretta’s hero in Your Scandalous Ways. And have you ever seen another bureaucrat with such impeccably snowy linen?
Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond (1734-1806, painted in 1758 by Sir Joshua Reynolds) right
Aside from bearing a striking resemblance to Keanu Reeves, His Grace had more than a few heroic qualities of his own as a soldier, politician, reformer, art collector, and avid dog-lover. Most notably, he championed the cause of the colonists during the American revolution in the House of Lords. (He’s also the great grandson of Charles II and Louise de Keroualle, the heroine of my next book, The French Mistress.)
Juan de Pareja (1610-1670, painted in 1650 by Diego Velazquez) left
Born into slavery in Seville, Juan de Pareja was bought by Velazquez, who promptly gave him his freedom, and a place in his studio and household as well. The two men were not only life-long friends, but associates: Pareja was also a talented painter, learning his craft as Velazquez’s assistant, and traveling with him to study throughout Italy. There Velazquez painted this portrait of Juan, as a "warm-up" to a commissioned portrait of the Pope.
Portrait of a Young Man (Sixteenth century Florence, painted in the 1530s by Agnolo Bronzino) right
While this Renaissance gentleman’s name may have been lost over time, his sensuous appeal certainly hasn’t. Historians guess from the book in his hand that he may have been a poet, or at least a member of the Florentine literary circle, and affluent (and self-assured) enough to sit for his portrait.
This whaling captain from New Bedford, MA is a genuine rarity in portraits: a red-haired, blue-eyed man! A descendant of one of the first Mayflower pilgrims, Yankee John Howland went to sea as a twelve-year-old cabin boy and was a captain by the time he was twenty, sailing on three-year whaling voyages to the Pacific Ocean. While he may be the only American in today's gallery, he can certainly hold his own among the European gentlemen.
Bindo Altoviti (1491-1556, painted by Raphael about 1515) right
While Wench Edith longed for blonde heroes on her covers in her last blog, they're also few and far between in Western male portraits. But this wealthy young Florentine, a prominent Renaissance banker (!) and art patron, certainly makes a case for fair-haired gentlemen. In fact, the story behind this painting is so shamelessly romantic, that I'm quoting at length the notes about it on the National Gallery of Art's web page:
[In the portrait, Bindo]"turns in a dramatic, almost theatrical, way to fix the eye of the viewer. Perhaps one viewer in particular was meant to receive his captivating look: Bindo's wife Fiammetta Soderini. Renaissance poets and courtiers were unanimous in believing that a person first fell in love through the eyes. They were called the guides of love, which could reveal the passion within more effectively than the tongue itself, or letter, or messengers. Bindo's flushed cheeks contribute to the impression of passion, and a ring is prominent on the hand he holds above his heart. The robe slipping from his shoulder reveals a bare nape caressed by soft curls. Their golden color would have underscored the nobility and purity of his love.
"Bindo and Fiammetta, daughter of a prominent Florentine family, were married in 1511, when Bindo would have been about twenty. The couple had six children, but Fiammetta continued to live in Florence while Bindo's business with the papal court required his presence in Rome. This portrait, which apparently hung in the couple's home in Florence, would have provided Fiammetta with a vivid reminder of her absent husband."
Do you wish the cover-models for romantic heroes were a bit more accurate, or do you like them just fine as they are? And who's your favorite among these gentlemen?
And be sure to look for Part Two later this month!