The 19th century physician and Italian critic, Giovanni Morelli pioneered a method of art analysis based on comparing the physiognomy of figures within renaissance paintings. To Morelli, attention directed to lips, eyebrows, fingernails, ears, even toe-nails, was fundamental to a theory of connoisseurship.
I don't know if Morelli went in for noses, but Culture Grrl at the Met in New York certainly does. it's interesting to note that she's used the nasal organ to solve a tricky problem of identification at their current Velasquez Rediscovered exhibition. Culture Grrl reports, the identity of the man in the portrait remains unresolved, but what could undermine the idea of this being Velasquez himself is that the proboscis of the gent in the re-attributed portrait doesn't match that of the nose of an authenticated self-portrait in Valencia- below-, therefore casting doubt on the man being our artist.
Still, I'm leaning towards Met curator Keith Christiansen who won't relinquish the possibility that it does show Velasquez's own features. Over the last month I've been showing these images of Velasquez to my students and have almost convinced myself that the elegant cavalier in the Prado's Surrender of Breda- below- who is a dead ringer for the man in the Met portrait- is Velasquez. And while I respect what Jonathan Brown is saying about it being inappropriate for an artist to appear in the painting of a historic event, I wonder… The Surrender of Breda shows Spinola, the Spanish general, in the centre of the composition. He was on very good terms with Velasquez and sailed with him to Genoa, on the artist's first visit to Italy in 1629. And isn't there a tradition of artists placing themselves at the side in paintings containing patrons and powerbrokers. Isn't this what Velasquez did in Las Meninas? Culture Grrl remains unconvinced of Christensen's identification, and she points out that he didn't put a small image of the Valencia S/P on the wall panels in the exhibition.
"When I asked Christiansen (who sees a resemblance to the Met man) why he didn't include an image of the Valencia painting on the wall text panels (which do include images from "Surrender of Breda"), he replied, "Jonathan has been fantastic, and I wanted to work with him. I thought, 'Jonathan knows this artist better than anybody. Who am I?'
Christensen's modesty is admirable, but presumably, a reproduction would have supported Brown's argument that the man in Valencia and the Man in the Met are two entirely different persons. Still, I can see why Christensen wants to hang on to his assertion. If this were a Velasquez self-portrait, it would draw more people to the Met. I'm still rooting for it as a portrait of the master.
BTW, Las Meninas is being disregarded in the battle of the noses. The features in it are too deeply enveloped in shadow for the purposes of physiognomic analysis.
Who could that mysterious man be? Who nose?