What is a tronie?

Girl with a Pearl Earring (ca. 1665) by Johannes Vermeer Photo Credit: Wikopedia

Girl with a Pearl Earring (ca. 1665) by Johannes Vermeer
Photo Credit: Wikopedia

This past Saturday, March 16, my husband Dave and I were thrilled to be able to see the exhibit Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshaus at the de Young, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (The exhibit runs in S.F. through June 2, 2013, then will travel to the HighMuseum of Art, Atlanta and The Frick Collection, New York.) We were in the Bay Area visiting Dave’s daughter Jeanne, our son-in-law Charlie and grandson Coby who live in Berkeley. We had just spent the better part of a morning and afternoon the previous day (Friday) with in the City, lunch with Jeanne, Charlie, Coby, my college pal Wes and his partner Pete at the Park Cafe in the Mission District, browsing at Paxton Gate which genuinely boasts “Treasures and Oddities Inspired by the Garden & Natural Sciences”, and self-touring Mission Dolotres. Upon waking Saturday morning, Dave and I agreed we simply had to return to the City and see Girl with a Pearl Earring as this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The exhibit was amazing! I was introduced to the term tronies, an art term I’d never before heard in all my decades of art history learning and loving. On page 60 of the Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings at the Mauritshaus exhibit catalogue I read:

Tronies – studies of heads – constitute a separate category of portraiture because they depict anonymous models. These bust-length portrayals were not intended as likenesses of specific people but as studies of facial expressions or characterizations of certain figure types. Sometimes the artist took his own face as an example, Rembrandt often did this. The most famous Dutch tronie is undoubtedly Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.

I have been making tronies, more often than not taking my own face as an example, for years and didn’t even know it! This was an ah-hah moment! Yes, I’ve printed a few portrait monotypes; I’ve printed dozens of tronie monotypes and will continue to do so.

One more note: I stood and lingered before Girl with a Pearl Earring, a painting I’ve loved dearly for decades, four different times during the course of our visit to the exhibit at the de Young last Saturday. This was An Ahhh Moment. It felt as if I’d been corresponding with Girl for years and now, finally, we stood before each other in person and had an opportunity to meet, literally, face-to-face. Sweet.

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