(American, born 1977)
Houdon Paul-Louis, 2011
Bronze with polished stone base
Though Kehinde Wiley is best known for his portraits of African American men in contemporary clothes, posed in stances drawn from paintings of the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, here he shifts from painting to sculpture. In both the lift and the return of the young man’s head and the open V of his zippered collar, this bronze references an eighteenth-century marble bust by Jean-Antoine Houdon (see illustration). In substituting male for female, black for white, and present for past, Wiley upends the earlier sculpture even as he quotes it. His interpretation encourages us to acknowledge the limitations and assumptions of representation and provokes a reconsideration of both stereotype and portraiture.
Mummy Cartonnage of a Woman
Possibly Hawara, Egypt
Roman period, first century C.E.
Linen, gilded gesso, glass, faience
Sculptor’s Model of a Royal Head
Late Period to early Ptolemaic Period, 381–2nd century B.C.E.
Provenance not known
The incised grid lines on the sides and back of this sculpture and on the lappets of its headdress suggest that the figure was a sculptor’s model, or trial piece. The rectangular protrusion, from which a uraeus (a cobra on the forehead) would have been modeled, as well as the chisel marks on the chest, support this. However, because royal busts of this type were commonly found in temples, they may have served as a votive, or offering, to a divinity in his or her shrine.
Late Halaf Period, late fifth millennium B.C.
Exact provenance unknown; similar figures found in norther Iraq and Syria (ancient Mesopotamia)
Like many of the earliest female figurines, this woman is shown with rudimentary arms, large breasts, hips, and thighs, and no indication of lower legs or feet. Her head is small, with unrealistic facial features; it has been heavily restored. The figure was modeled in clay, dried in the sun, and then painted in several colors, with patterns that may represent tattoos or jewelry. Whether images like these represented real, ideal, or divine women, their main purpose was certainly to encourage female fertility.
Late third millennium B.C.
Exact provenance unknown; type known from northern Iraq and Syria (ancient Mesopotamia)