Getting a Picture of the Man or the Woman
The Web offers a sometimes rich collection of images that might help our students to judge the character of a famous or important person, but the images are not always reliable sources of information. We must teach them to consider questions like the following:
- Did the painter ever meet the person whose portrait we are seeing?
- Did the painter have the skill necessary to capture character visually?
- Would the painter be tempted to flatter the famous person, showing her or him in a warmer, gentler and kinder version?
- Did the hero status of the famous person cause the artist to glorify the subject of the painting?
To taste this challenge, go to Google Images and search for 10 images of Joan of Arc (Jean d'Arc) and paste them into an Inspiration diagram like the one shown above for Matthew Flinders.
How should a teacher acquaint students with the strengths and weakenesses of portraits as an historical source?
And how many of these issues are also present when looking at photographs of famous people? Given the devotion of modern "handlers" of famous people, how much can we learn about character from staged photos of leaders, for example?
© Jamie McKenzie, 2007, all rights reserved. No copies can be made or distributed in any format without the express written permission of the author.