Monday, March 26, 2012

How to Pose, Old School Style

I was looking through a book on Old Master portraiture the other day and found myself completely fascinated by the way everybody posed back then. Their body language, their relationship with the person painting them (and by extension, the viewer) -- every detail was choreographed to reveal as much as possible about their personality. I wondered, were there standard "go-to" poses that still hold true today?

Why yes. There are. :)

1. The School of Superiority

(1580. King James I by Arnold Van Brounckhorst.)

Overall Attitude:
"Don't even."

Works Best if:
You are extremely confident.

To make both the photographer and the viewer feel that they're not worthy.

Chief Characteristics:
Stony gaze. Arched eyebrows.
Angled hand draws attention to minuteness of waist.

(2012. Via The Sartorialist.)

2. The School of Vulnerability
(1626-1627. Rembrandt, "A Bust of a Man in a Gorget and Cap.")

Overall Attitude:
"Don't look at me. No, look at me."

Works Best If:
You want to project strength with a side of vulnerability.

To present a conflicting duality of character, both a reluctance to be
the subject and at the same time satisfy a desire for attention.

Defining Characteristics:
Body in profile, but head turned forward to engage viewer. Gaze is direct but wary.
(2011. Daphne Guinness by Saga Sig, via here.)

3. The School of Lust

(Artist unknown.)

Overall Attitude:
"I think you know what I want."

Works Best If:
You are slightly drunk.

To telegraph your core message: I. Want. You. Now.

Defining Characteristics:
Head slightly tilted. Lips apart. Direct gaze.
Wide-brimmed hat throws features into shadow.

(2011. Photo by Saga Sig, via here.)

4. The School of Vermeer
(1669. "The Geographer" by Vermeer.)

Overall Attitude:
"Now where was I...?"

Works Best If:
You are being cajoled into posing for a picture.

To make the subject appear deep/lost in thought.

Chief Characteristics:
Always near a window so face can be lit by half-light. Deep contemplation.
Seemingly oblivious to photographer.

(2011. Kate Spade via The Selby.)

(2012. David Netto by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti.)

5. The School of Reluctance

(c. 1600. Portrait of King James I. Artist unknown.)

Overall Attitude:
"How long do I have to sit here?"

Works Best If:
You have a nation to rule/bicycle to ride.

To convey impatience.
"You said this wouldn't take long."

Defining Characteristics:
Head propped up by hand. World-weary attitude.
The moodier the background, the better. Facial hair a plus.

(2012. Piero by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti.)

Creative Exercise: Why not try to recreate one of the following poses on your own?

(1743. Jacques Louis David. Portrait of Monsieur Lavoisier and his wife.)

(1791. Jacques-Louis David. "Portrait of Madame Trudaine.")

(1609. Peter Paul Rubens. "The Artist and his Wife".)

(1630. Franz Hals. Portrait of Willem Van Heythuysen.)

(1842. Ingres, "Cherubimi.")


little pink cakes said...

I really enjoyed this post - creative, funny and inspiring!

Thank you for making me smile :)

Modern Traditionalist said...

This was the best way to start my day; thank you! In your honor, I will recreate "Portrait of Monsieur Lavoisier and his wife" by Jacques Louis David next month at my wedding.


pve design said...

My old school photo was in fact inspired by "A girl with a Pearl Earring" - ver Meer.
My next photo will have a decidedly more modern take.

mimi berlin blogger team said...

love your post !!!

Tricia Rose said...

Too true! Although to me the second image shows a girl either protecting herself or pregnant. I suppose I'll never know...

Olga Roth said...

That was hilarious! Loved it!

Lily said...

Oh Lisa, I loved this post, as it is So terribly pertinent... I'm having my portrait painted by a dear friend and fascinating artist who uses the Old Master Techniques and it has been such an amazing experience and education! I fidget and she reprimands and in between I watch the thin layers of paint (with gorgeous names like Alizarin Crimson and Quinacridone Magenta) translate flesh tones and embroidery and peacock feathers. I wrote of it in my blog...
I's definitely sorcerer's work, capturing the essence of someone.

materfamilias said...

Such an entertaining distraction from marking student papers -- thank you!

Jane said...

hi Lisa. Fantastic and thank you.

And doesn't Piero look a bit Rembrandt-esque at the moment?

debbie bailey said...

You've inspired me to try this. I'm tired of the usual poses and would love to try something different. Your photo of your husband is just great. He looks like a model. You may tell him I said that!

Acanthus and Acorn said...

I loved all your examples, made me laugh and then ponder which type of poser I'd want to be and for some reson I'm thinking #1, but I'd probably get the giggles before getting through it!

Joanna said...

I adore this post. So clever and well done!

Meredith said...

I love it when my first click of the day uncovers a great blog post! A little art history, a little humor...what's not to love...

Cheers -
Meredith at Tuscan Blue Design

Hels said...

One of your paintings looks like The Girl with the Red Hat by Johannes Vermeer, only boozier and racier. Would Vermeer have approved?

kathy peck said...

What a brilliant post - going to start paying more attention to poses after this one!

VictoriaArt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
VictoriaArt said...

I often wonder about poses in pictures, the way we want to be seen, or for certain reasons the painter /photographer wants us to be seen. There as many messages and you captured them in such an amusing, but surely often true way!
Love the idea of recreating old school photos!
I have done this with still lifes.
A wonderful post, Lisa!

Mrs. Sutton said...

LOVE this post - beautiful images, and brilliant commentary. I will definitely study modern portraiture a little more closely now - very amusing!

lsellers said...


Diane James Home said...

So clever, Lisa, and such fun to read during a quick break from the mundane! If my husband were to choose, he would go with the artist and his wife pose - he, sitting higher up with confidence, me, with a slight blush and a protective hand over his. For me, the Jacques Louis David speaks volume about us at this moment - he, using the kitchen and the dining room table as his desk, papers strewn all over, while I am leaning over his shoulder (again!) with an air of despair thinking "oh when are you going to move your ---- up to the office and leave me in peace!". XO, Cynthia

Bumble at home said...

So loved your de-coding 'the pose' adds another whole dimension to looking at Vogue etc and gives one a bit of a giggle to think the dropped hip and downward glance have been around longer than the dreaded red carpet.

noreen said...

beautiful old art, and the match-ups are interesting! art is like vitamins, and translating it makes it so much more interesting. thank you!

hong kong property said...

this is such an entertaining read. i love how you compared the old images to modern ones=)

Hong Kong property

House of Hemingway said...

I was at the Kimbell Art museum just yesterday morning looking at the current Impressionism exhibit. Many Renoirs, Monets, and Pissaros. I was so in trance looking at each piece carefully and always drawn to the detail in poses. I totally want to do a photo shoot imitating some of my favorite poses! I'm going to do it!

Betze said...

You are HYSTERICAL! Loved the "Don't look at me. No, look at me."

Beauté Camp said...

This made me giggle!

great post!

Joanna said...

I read this post Monday and have been meaning to comment ever since. It reminds me of a book I recently read called England's Mistress by Kate Williams. It's about Lady Hamilton, who becomes famous as a model for painters Joshua Reynolds and George Romney in the 18th century. She becomes famous for her classical poses. She even gives private shows of her "attitudes". Thanks for the the fascinating post.

Tavarua said...

Greetings from the old world...Ireland at the moment...
Brilliant Post...

NotesFromAbroad said...

Laughed out loud, darling !
I really enjoyed this, besos, C

quintessence said...

Wonderful fun post!! Had me nodding and laughing out loud at the same time! So pleased that I have found my way back here!

Joad said...

Very funny ... and really quite instructive. Thank you.

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Plus ca change...

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