Fawning for Fame
The Art of Presentation or packaging oneself for maximum exposure is hardly a new phenomena. More than two thousand years after the ruler, Augustus, used for the very first time, the minting technique to bring his face to the people, the possibilities for getting one’s picture shown in public have dominated the mainstream.
In today’s media society, television fare like Entourage, American Idol, Project Runway, Bethenny Getting Married?, and the always effortlessly cool Mad Men fill the airwaves, glorifying fame and all its accompanying excesses. Today, one needs to go no further for a bit of recognition and renown than to the Internets’ own über publicist, the infamous Facebook, a gathering of one hundred and fifty million plus strangers, who are ready to befriend, share and exchange the most banal of pleasantries and intimate of secrets, launching even the lowest of us to the digital Walk of Fame.
Never before have consumers consumed so much: photo ops, press kits, fashion layouts, publicity tours, media interviews, behind-the-scenes stagings where highly customized presentations are carefully choreographed and rigidly controlled to create a favorable impression in anointing the next great celebrity wonder.
With literally hundreds of different media outlets competing for the attention of viewers, readers and listeners, a great deal of importance is attached to presenting oneself in the best possible light, no matter how distant the truth. Those who know how to present themselves, after all, get noticed, and a whole raft of consultants, posses, coaches, stylists and publicists make sure that their protégé and, by association, themselves, garner a spot at the celebrated top.
For a bit of fanciful fun, three men out of history, all angling for fame and immortality, were chosen as studies in the art of presentation, two from the middle ages (a nobleman and a merchant) and the third (an actor) from the twenty-first century.
Consider, if you will, the valued back story for the middle ages. Although the printing press was introduced in 1440, shifting forever the power of the few to the many, it was the portrait paintings of that time that primarily memorialized and publicized the rich, the powerful and subsequently, the middle class.
Those looking for fame sought out the expert brush strokes of master artisans to transform the unknown and ordinary into a veritable superstar. One of the preeminent and official court painters of his day, the Medici appointed Angiolo Torri Bronzino (1503-1572) usually known as Il Bronzino, was celebrated as the master magician of the brush. His portrait figures—often read as static, elegant, and stylish exemplars of unemotional haughtiness and assurance—influenced the course of European court portraiture for a century.
Who better than Il Bronzino to wave his magic brush and usher In instant celebrity. In a Portrait of a Young Man, the viewer is accosted by the arresting and imperious gaze of an unidentified young Florentine. The overweening pomposity is perfectly captured in the all consuming self-important stare, not to the viewer, who is surely beneath the nobleman’s station, but to that private place where only the truly anointed brood.
The elegant young man wears a black satin doublet, with fashionably slashed sleeves, over a white “camicia” with a ruffled collar, accented with a brilliant blue belt. Both his hat and the ties supporting his codpiece are decorated with gold aglets, and he wears one ring. A sign of availability, perhaps? He stands between an elaborately decorated table and chair within an architectural setting meant to suggest a Florentine palace. Naturally.
His refined facial features and bearing are unmistakable, exuding a bravado and confidence that was sure to capture hearts, attention, benefactors and untold riches. One simple painting by the esteemed Il Bronzino was enough to catapult the young Florentine into the exalted courts of his own exaggerated imagination.
The second study in self-absorption, aka The Art of Presentation, is the meticulously detailed portrait of a proud young man whose standing in society is unknown, although staged here for desired effect. From the Oriental rug, the vase filled with cloves and rosemary, the graceful balance and the golden table clock to the hand stamp bearing the tradesman’s mark, Georg Gisze, a German living in London at the time, became, as a result of this portrait, a Mercator doctus, a merchant on the cutting-edge of society.
Although born in Danzig, Gisze wanted to be presented as a successful merchant on the London trading exchange in order to convey a certain image of himself to the inner circle of merchants in the City. The contracts and many other objects surrounding the merchant are meant, above all, to mark him out as an extremely credible person in money matters and a good connoisseur of world markets. This was of great importance during the period of rule of Henry VIII, since it was at this time that the first wave of globalisation was taking place.
Again, the portrait and carefully staged presentation, elevated the subject to the heights of his choosing.
Finally, the third young man on the way up, not a hedge fund manager as you might expect, but one whose fates are equally skewed between fame and famine — the actor. With the technological advances of the 21st century, a carefully conceived film designed to showcase the style, taste, panache and talents of the little known rookie is the delivery device of choice in the new world order of media. The prestigious Wall Street Journal went on location for a fashion shoot recently, entitled “A Place in the Sun,” with upcoming star, indie actor Alessandro Nivola, sharing with viewers, his carefully solicited thoughts on acting.
Naturally, an entire production crew was called out for the sumptuously-styled exotic locale in what appears to be the Hollywood Hills, poolside, of course (a requisite), with a beautiful model (also requisite) in tow, a cherry red top-down Mercedes, a shamelessly cute puppy, a few choice props, like a guitar, to convey the actor’s softer, poetic side and brightly colored pool floats for a spontaneously staged dip, a fashionable wardrobe of clothes, hats, shades and boat shoes (it is after all a fashion shoot), the always essential presence of a catering crew, and a full blown entourage of stylists, agents, publicists, makeup artists, wardrobe consultants, animal trainers, etc. In short, a posse that would send Vincent Chase and pals back to Queens. Here in the famed hills of Hollywood, all are gathered together on a blindingly beautiful day in paradise, overlooking the palms and pools of the rich and famous, to christen, yet, another newcomer to the pantheon of celebrated self-importance.
How far we’ve come from a few carefully chosen oils on canvas. Or have we?
Portrait of a Young Man by Angiolo Torri Bronzino, Florence, 1530.
Portrait of the merchant Georg Gisze by Hans Holbein, Gemäldegalerie Berlin, 1532.