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PRINT September 1987

ICONS AT LARGE

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FOR MANY PEOPLE, I WOULD guess, an important, early, and visceral experience of art involves being followed around a room by the eyes of a portrait. Raphael’s Baldassare Castiglione, 1515–16, in the Louvre, and Ingres’ Comtesse d’Haussonville, 1845, in the Frick Collection, are two brilliant adepts at this regard—more straightforward than their elliptical cousin, Mona Lisa. When encountered with a degree of innocence, these paintings are unyielding in their assertion of presence, clearly exercising some ineffable but absolute authority, relentless in their knowingness of what a child zigzagging in a gallery to test their gaze might sense to be a big truth outside its grasp or a lie caught that even Mommy had just missed.

To return to orbs like these years later is to be engulfed by the ambiguous blankness of their expression. They betray no specific emotion: classically heroic, they suggest

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