Charles Saumarez Smith

Picture Imperfect

Portraits and Persons


Oxford University Press 256pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

The great advantage of philosophy as a discipline is that a philosopher can take an everyday subject matter such as portraiture and subject it to scrutiny as a human activity in a way that an art historian could not or would not dare to, because it involves no scholarly knowledge, only an ability to think carefully and scrupulously about the subject’s implications. This is what Cynthia Freeland has done in her book about portraits. She is aware that portraits have a special status as works of art: they are records of people’s appearance, as well as ways of remembering and characterising them, and it is a special characteristic of human beings that they want to perpetuate themselves as images. What do portraits tell us about attitudes to human consciousness?

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