The Author's Portrait

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Many of your old friends are coming to Firestone Library beginning on
January 22, 2010. Save the date.

Top to bottom: Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Phillis Wheatley, Luis Palés Matos, Confucius, John Milton, Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Blake, and Anne Killigrew.

The Author’s Portrait: “O, could he but have drawne his Wit”

Beginning January 22, 2010, Firestone Library’s main gallery will be filled with 100 portraits of poets, novelists, and essayists, pulled from the holdings of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. Paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, marble sculptures, and plaster death masks, dating from 1481 to 1989, will be on view. Among the writers featured are William Shakespeare, Virgil, Mark Twain, George Sand, and Sojourner Truth. Artists whose work will be on view include William Blake, Constantin Brancusi, Jean-Antoine Houdon, Willem de Passe, and Auguste Rodin. The exhibition continues through July 5, 2010.

Dr. Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Associate Professor of American Art and Director of the Program in Visual Studies, University of Pennsylvania will deliver the opening lecture entitled: “The Ideal Pencil: Poetry, Portraiture, and Prejudice,” focusing on African American writer Phillis Wheatley and portraits of African American women writers in the 18th century. The lecture will begin at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 24, 2010, in 101 McCormick Hall. No reservations are necessary. A reception will follow in the gallery at approximately 5:00 p.m.

In addition, an annotated checklist of the exhibition will be published, illustrated with fifty of the portraits and an introductory essay by Dr. Tom Hare, the William Sauter LaPorte ‘28 Professor in Regional Studies and Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton. The exhibition will be open to the public Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., and weekends, 12:00 to 5:00 p.m. Gallery tours will held on Sunday, March 21 at 3:00 and on Friday, May 7 at noon.

The exhibition’s subtitle is from one of the many epigraphs that accompany the authors’ portraits. This one is from Ben Jonson’s verses in Shakespeare’s 1623 first folio.

To the Reader.
This Figure, that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut,
Wherein the Graver had a strife
with Nature, to out-doo the life :
O, could he but have drawne his Wit
As well in brasse, as he hath hit
His face ; the Print would then surpasse
All, that was ever writ in brasse.
But, since he cannot, Reader, looke
Not on his Picture, but his Booke.

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I love looking at those old portraits. It's interesting to see how we have changed the way we view ourselves over the ages.

I wish I could draw like some of them, but I can't - that's why I took up photography. Its a lot quicker as well!