GOOD PORTRAITURE UNIVERSAL, NOT RACIAL Granting the fundamental principle upon which the human head is built it follows naturally that good portraiture is universal and not racial. Because a portrait is primitive African or Egyptian or Chinese does not mean that it is any better as a portrait than a bust produced in Rome, Paris or New York. Racial differences occur from the frontal bone to the chin (Pl. IX., figs. 3 and 8) and do not affect the real mass structure of the head.
By the same reasoning it would be a thankless task to estab lish the superiority of any one period of portrait sculpture over another. The factor of time is unimportant. A portrait that was good in the days before Christ is good to-day and takes its place with the best portraiture produced by the succeeding ages down to the present time.
The fundamental construction of a head, while of paramount importance in its valuation, is less striking to the layman than external characteristics. It is difficult, for example, to appreciate the structural kinship between a highly conventionalized portrait bust of an Egyptian king and a work emphasizing the individuality of a less exalted personage. Yet the difference between the highly individualized and the highly conventionalized portrait may lie solely in the treatment of externals.
A study of Cambodian heads (P1. IX., fig. 7) or those pro duced in Egypt (Pl. IX., fig. 2) and in Rome (Pl. IX., fig. 4) shows the influence of the current mode on the work of art. The Cambodian portraitist in particular followed a definite symbolism in the rendering of the hair, while the popular coif of other lands is repeated with more or less conventional emphasis in the fashion ing of the portrait bust.
Thus, although the individual was an individual in ancient lands quite as much as in the Europe and America of to-day, cer tain characteristics of dress stamp him with the life of a definite period.
X., fig. 3) and simplification with the resultant absence of per sonal characterizing details (Pl. IX., fig. 5) may be found in por trait sculpture from earliest times to the present era.
In Egypt, as well as in China, India and Cambodia, the con ventionalization of forms was particularly favoured. Many of the
fine renderings of kings and queens (Pl. IX., fig. i) are so highly conventionalized that the personal characteristics are lost or ob scured. If one may judge by the mass of portraiture that has come down to us the high dignitaries of the religious and governmental life were placed on a plane above human characterization and were considered more as symbols of the church and State than as individuals. Yet, paralleling the conventional in portraiture there was a wealth of individual representations indulged usually in subjects of lesser rank, but presenting a definite individual char acter with all the eccentricities, all the imperfections of the ordi nary man (Pl. IX., figs. 2, 3 and 9).
Realism in the development of the portrait bust began almost with the first known portrait and marched triumphantly through the centuries, cropping out in unexpected places even in the great cathedrals of the middle ages where, carved on choir stools or as incidental architectural decoration, there are hundreds of little por trait busts characterizing the artisan or the ecclesiast or even the aristocrat of the time. Occurring as they did in an epoch devoted not to portrait sculpture but to architecture they serve to demon strate the tremendous urge of the human race toward the perpetu ation of the individual.
There is a slight shade of difference in viewpoint between con ventionalizing and idealizing the human head. In conventionalizing the sculptor chooses the characteristics of subject and period and reduces them to decorative forms and symbols. Thus we find the hair of the African or the coiffure of the Cambodian expressed not realistically but by means of conventionalized decoration (Pl. IX., figs. 7 and 8).
It remained for Rome, however, to lay final stress upon the individual as an individual. The long succession of portraits that issued from that city in the centuries of its world dominion show clearly the swing of the art pendulum from idealization and con ventionalization to the frank acceptance of human imperfections. Sculptors delighted in these imperfections, these marks of per sonality, and expressed them with a realistic force that is as power ful to-day as it was in the long ago. Realism so held the por traitist in its grip that he often forgot the dress of a man and centred his attention upon the fundamental characterization of his subject as a timeless individual. The finest of these heads are, in consequence, forever modern as they reveal the human bring stripped of period identification (Pl. IX., fig. 4).
The loth century is witnessing a return to the general simplicity found in the portraiture of the ancients.