Famous Authors Drawn, Not Quartered January 25, 2010 – Tags: author portraits, Authors, Book Illustration, books, Firestone Library, Libraries, Princeton University
The purpose of any portrait is to capture the essence of the subject. To somehow convey in a single image not just the outward appearance of the sitter, but his soul. But if the subject is a great writer, does that task become impossible? Poet Ben Jonson thought so, and maybe the curators at Princeton University’s Firestone Library do, too.
Those curators have just opened a new exhibit of 100 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, marble sculptures, and plaster death masks, depicting literary giants. The title of the gallery show is: The Author’s Portrait. But the subtitle, O, could he but have drawne his Wit, is loaded with irony. Those words are from a 1623 lament by poet Ben Jonson, published in the First Folio of the works of William Shakespeare. Jonson bemoans the fact that the engraver, Martin Droeshout, cannot possibly capture the genius of Shakespeare in a portrait. He ends with these lines: “Reader, looke, Not on his Picture but his Booke.” But the Princeton curators do want viewers to look at the images of authors collected from their Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. So here’s a sampling of the exhibit, and readers are invited to decide for themselves if the souls of the writers have been well depicted by the artists.
The Firestone Library’s exhibit,The Author’s Portrait: O, Could He But Have Drawne His Wit opened on January 22, 2010 and continues through July 5, 2010.