Copying in museums

I did this copy of Anthony van Dyck’s “Three Ages of Man” over ten years ago in the civic museum in Vicenza. Its been hanging in a dark corner of my apartment for all these years, but I moved it this week and can finally photograph it. I spent over three weeks there and didn’t come close to finishing, I had to paint the old man from a photograph when I got home. The museum website lists the painting as the Four Ages of Man, but I think the woman on the right represents something else.

The people at the museum were charming. After a couple of days they let me leave all my stuff out in the room rather than packing everything up at the end of the day. It was like having my own private studio in the museum. The city of Vicenza itself is beautiful, and the Baptism of Christ by Bellini in the church of Santa Corona remains of the most incredible paintings I have ever seen (the reproduction doesn’t do it justice).

I tried a different painting technique with each of the figures. The girl I did in a complete grisaille and glazed the color over when it dried. The young man I did in a ‘colored-grisaille’ (as I had been taught in school) and then glazed the colors over the figure. The child I did in one day, trying to hit the colors right away. I think the full grisaille was probably the closest to how van Dyck painted the original, though its not a technique I have ever desired to use in my own work.

My copy is the same size as the original, which is apparently illegal. I was ignorant of this at the time and luckily didn’t get caught (not that anyone could ever confuse mine for the original). One interesting thing is that while painting it, I couldn’t see the background as the painting had darkened so much. Only later when given a large-format slide by the museum could I see that the large shape over the middle figure’s head is a Greek temple. The bright lights they used to photograph it cut through the darkened varnishes better than my eye could.

The frame on mine was made to look something like the original, but years later the painting was sent to London for the van Dyck show at the Royal Academy and the art historians changed the frame for some reason. Last time I saw the painting in Italy they had kept the new frame which looks nothing like mine. The new frame is much simpler and would have saved me a ton of money.

Lighting the model in portraits

This post is for my portrait student in our discussion about lighting the model for portraits. I quickly pasted together a few examples to explain myself better.

The classic 3/4 view in portrait lighting. Light on both sides of the face with a strong ‘Van Dyck Z’. Painter stands between the window and the model:

Portrait lighting with light on the far side of the face, half-tone or shadow on the nose:

The portrait model lit from both sides, much more difficult to pull off in my opinion (the Serov on the left has light bouncing from everywhere in the room):

The portrait model with half the face in full shadow, seems to very popular with self portraits:

I couldn’t find good historic examples of the high light-source, raccoon effect which is popular today in portrait painting. There are more lighting possibilities than just these four, but I figure this is a good start.

Someone sent me this link to a tutorial on lighting, one of the better ones I’ve seen.