Leonardo da Vinci recommended avoiding the latest dress fashions in portraits so ‘we may be spared being laughed at by our successors for the mad fashions of men and leave behind only things that may be admired for their dignity and beauty’. Sir Joshua Reynolds, likewise, preferred simple clothes to ‘those whimsical and capricious forms by which all other dresses are embarrassed’. In an early self-portrait, currently on display in ‘Looking Good: The Male Gaze from Van Dyck to Lucian Freud’ at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, he opts for a plain blue waistcoat and informal frock coat.
The centrepiece of this exhibition is Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s final Self-Portrait (1640). Purchased in 2014 by the National Portrait Gallery, London, following a major public appeal, the painting has been styled ‘a masterpiece for everyone’ and is now at the end of a three-year tour of exhibitions on the subject of Van Dyck, image and identity, and the development of self-portraiture. Here, on its only stopover in Scotland, it prompts a series of reflections on male appearances, fashion and sexuality, from 17th-century cavaliers to the rise of the male celebrity. read more