L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Zoie Ghika, a Moldavian princess, by Alexander Roslin, 1777

Information about the sitter is extremely thin and contradictory. Whether she was living at the court of Catherine II as a political pawn or for her and her family's personal safety, I've been unable to clarify. In any case it was the Empress who ordered this portrait, one of the last completed during Roslin's two year sojourn in Russia. (He received some seventy-five commissions while there, and had to finish many of them on his return to Paris.)

The princess' costume is picturesque and outside of the fashion of the day, but otherwise this is a perfect example of Roslin's precise, direct, but delicately sensual style; as usual, the description of the details - fabric, lace, fur, ribbon - is exquisite.

The lace is exactly drawn, the silver embroidery perfectly evoked.
The silver ribbon...!


  1. "Precise, direct, but delicately sensual…."
    That sums it up beautifully; and whenever I see pictures of this sort I am astonished, all over again, by the way in which "reality" (the silver ribbon, for example) was rendered so convincingly by skilled artists of past eras. Yet there is nothing too hard-looking or overworked or, heaven forbid, "photo realistic" about any of it. In fact it seems to me that our photographic age makes it nearly an impossible challenge to paint in this manner. Or at least, that is one of my muddled notions on the subject.

    1. The silver ribbon - I just can't get over it! And, yes, I agree with all you say. (Save the declaration of the muddled-ness of your notions, of course.) I fear the marvel of photography has irreparably altered our perception; we can't actually see things in the same way we once might have. In my own painting, as precisely descriptive as it is, while still as removed from any sort of photographic realism, I'll never be able to capture, as Roslin and certain other painters could, any sense of "air"; there's a feeling of the actual air around the subject, an extremely subtle - even poetic - essence in some paintings, a vividness that is served by precise description but which completely transcends the mechanical. (Vermeer is another good example of what I mean.) And I wonder, like you, if it isn't photography that has somehow compromised our visual perception and our ability, as artists, to capture the subtler aspects of a thing; we can't "translate" what we don't even see.

    2. Thank you Stephen, for completing the rough outline of my earlier remarks! "Actual air.." yes, exactly.
      And how strange but true, that we who paint are placed at a disadvantage by photography's pervasive ( I nearly typed insidious) influence.

      Yet were it not for photography/technology this wonderful blog wouldn't exist; nor would, I at the opposite side of this continent, be aware of your own work--- which, by the way, has positively bowled me over.

    3. Thank you so much for your thoughtful contributions to this post, Mr. Worthington, and for your very kind words about my work; je suis vraiment honoré!