Tuesday, September 23, 2014

An Illustrated Who's Who

Portrait albums--bound collections of chalk portraits--became all the rage at the French court in the sixteenth century. Courtiers used the albums for entertainment, making a game of guessing sitters'  identities or composing epigrams and tags to accompany the pictures. They commissioned albums as gifts, or used them for diplomatic purposes.

Jean Clouet and his son François, portraitists who worked at the French court from the 1520's through the 1560's, were extraordinarily skilled at capturing likenesses on paper. Their precise, detailed portraits of hundreds of French nobles provide an intriguing and realistic record of physiognomy and fashion in an age that long predated photography. (You can browse Clouet portraits at the Réunions des Musées nationaux website.)

Today I created an album of my own, gathering portraits of my novel's characters on a Pinterest board. All the portraits are contemporaneous with the action of the novel, set in 1539-40. Many were sketched by Jean and François themselves, or by other artists who feature in the novel with them. For the novel's few fictional characters, I selected anonymous portraits of individuals who correspond to my mental image of the characters. It was great fun to assemble, in one place, a visual representation of the people I've tried so hard to resurrect through words.

Here, for example, are the novel's three viewpoint characters:

Catherine, the artist's daughter
Anne d'Heilly, duchesse d'Étampes, the king's mistress
Faustine, an artist's model

Come check out the board and meet the rest of the cast! The novel is undergoing a final revision before going out on submission to editors.

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