LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Rendering the Renaissance Portrait


A limited edition book by Assouline and a captivating video by Philip Scott Johnson revisit the Renaissance portrait with a vivid, fresh perspective.

The Renaissance period in art history is said to have created the foundations for the modern portrait. We revisit its masterpieces in modern renderings that are works of art in themselves.

A good portrait can express the complexity of human character as well as haunting philosophical questions about reality, perspective and time. If a picture paints a thousand words, a portrait often leaves us simply speechless.

More people than you think are secretly and deeply in love with a portrait. They return to museums regularly to visit the painted face of a stranger that is yet familiar and fascinating. An intense fixation of the eyes, a fragmented story that fascinates, a bloom of youth that never fades - portraits romance us with the very possibility of understanding of ourselves.

The thinkers, artists and leaders of the Renaissance, a European cultural movement roughly between the 14th and 17th centuries, used ancient knowledge from the Greek and Roman classics for a renewed perspective on humanity. It was during this time that portraiture took on the image of individual psychology, the public face, and a marked presence of the artist as creator. Modern portraiture, as we know it today, was born into dimension.

Portraits of the Renaissance, released in limited editions by Assouline and authored by Nathalie Mandel, is exquisite book craftsmanship at its best. Nathalie Mandel, a Sotheby's expert in Old Masters who formerly worked at the French auction houses of Jacques Tajan, Eric Turquin and René Millet, tells the essential narrative of portraiture's evolution during this crucial period in history. The book's exceptional color choice, binding and box construction celebrate the vibrancy of the Renaissance portrait in a highly modern manner that gives due reverence to the notable Flemish, German and Italian masterworks within it.

Equally modern and sensually engaging is Philip Scott Johnson's video rendering, "Women in Art," which has emotively choreographed, through morphed animation, selected static portraits of women throughout art history into a cinematic and living story. Philip Scott Johnson, a digital artist working from St. Louis, Missouri, has set these morphed images to the music of a Sarabande from Bach's Cello Suite #1 in G Major, performed by Yo-Yo Ma; the effect is extraordinary and has attracted nearly 7 million views on

The Renaissance portrait claims, in this holistic overview, an essential role in the evolution of the human spirit's portrayal.

Philip Scott Johnson
Digital Artist, "Women in Art"

What inspired the idea for this project?
The inspiration came from the idea of taking something old and making something new out of it. I wanted to take classical art and present it in a new way that would seem interesting and entertaining to a 21st century audience.

What is the technical focal point of each of the portraits that unifies them – what do the movements and transitions center around?
Most people think it is the eyes but in reality is all the major features of the face that are unified – the eyes, the brows, the nose, the mouth, the cheeks, and the jaw-line.

What is common to all the portraits?
The essence of femininity in all her forms across time.

What do you think is the most essential element of a successful portrait, Renaissance to modern?
It is the mood of the moment that is captured on canvas - the tilt of the head, the glance of the eyes, the tone of the skin. All the elements of portrait painting must come together so that the splotches of paint become something that seems real and human.

What was the most challenging part of the project?
Selecting and ordering the specific paintings such that the movement of the faces seems fluid.

Why did you choose to work only with portraits of women?
The female form is, in my opinion, the quintessential art motif in Western Art. My goal was to create the vision of the ideal woman created from the faces of many across the centuries.

What is your definition of luxury?

If luxury were an object?
The beauty of an object that expresses the divine capabilities of the human spirit.

A place?
At home in my studio where my mind is at peace and I'm free to create.

A person?

A moment?
The moment where success is realized.

Contact Philip Scott Johnson:

Nathalie Mendel
Author, Portraits of the Renaissance

What three words describe Renaissance portraiture for you?
Innovative, Genuine, Pure

What do you think is the most essential element of a successful portrait, Renaissance and modern?
The ability to make you feel that the person in the portrait is alive and you sense the personality of the model. Great portraits also convey a modernity that extends across centuries.

To your eyes, which is more prominent in Renaissance portraiture –individual psychology or social and political distinction?
There are certain portraitists who were obligated by the state to convey the social function of the person and, in my opinion, they are not the most interesting. The portraits that we consider today to be masterworks touch the personality of the individual. The others may have an interest relative to history, but from an artistic perspective, portraits are beautiful when they are more intimate, more attached to personality, and convey a presence in the person's look and sensibility.

How has Renaissance portraiture influenced modern portraiture, more specifically portrait photography?
The Renaissance was a great leap forward in the development of portraiture. We have just begun to understand their innovative representation of individuals in a full, three-dimensional manner, unlike the religious icons before. The Renaissance period was really the beginning of modern portraiture, as it is effectively interested in the personality of man.
Concerning photography today, I think there is a precision in detail and in technique as well as a visual critique by the Renaissance painters, characterized by the artist Van Ecke, that is close to photography today. What is interesting about the vision of these artists is that, thanks to their eye, they portray things that would not be evident to us, thanks to their eye we are more attentive to things that we would not normally remark. The eye of the photographer functions in a similar manner.

Which portrait from this book particularly captivates you and why?
"Portrait of a Man in a Turban" (1433) by Jan van Eyck is, for me, very captivating; it is small in reality but very impressive and gives the sitter an extraordinary degree of authority. Another very important painting is "Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione" (1514-1516); it personifies a genre of Renaissance men who were humanists, so it is at once a portrait of a particular person as well as a symbol of an entire spirit, therefore a universal portrait. There have been copies of this portrait; the great painter Ruban did a version in the 18th century, which attests that it is more than a simple representation.

Definition of Luxury:
To be able to have the time to enjoy the things you like most

A special edition book of the work of a great photographer.

A sunset

A ballet dancer

A beautiful house with a beautiful landscape in Tuscany, Italy

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