Listen to part of a lecture in an art history class.
As you know, portrait artists often position their subjects so that their head is turned a little to one side,
thereby presenting the artist with a semi-side view, a semi-profile view.
And for some reason, western European artists have historically tended to show the left һ side of the subject's face, more than the right.
A while back, some researchers examine about 1,500 portraits painted from the 16th to the 20th century in Western Europe.
And in the majority of them is the left һ side of the face that's most prominently displayed.Why is that?
And interestingly enough, this tendency to show the left side has diminished over time,
especially in the 20th century.
In fact, the leftһ right ratio is now about 1:1.50% left 50% right.
Why is that?
We do know that for many artists, the choice of left side, right side was very important.
There is an image by the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh called the Potato Eaters that shows the profiles of a group of farmers.
It's a lithograph, which is a print made from i mages drawn on a stone.
When you print something that way, what you get is a mirror image of the original picture.
The exact same image, except that left and right are reversed,
and Van Gogh was so dissatisfied with the print that he wrote to his brother,
quote "the figures, I'm sorry to say, are now turned the wrong way." end quote.
Anyway, why do you think so many painters in the past chose to depict the left side of their subjects' face? Nancy.
Could it have to do with whether the artists were left-handed or right-handed,
like maybe most of them were right-handed, and maybe for some reason they feel more comfortable painting the left side?
Ok, many right-handed artists do find it easier to paint left profiles, and many art historians think that's the reason for the directional bias.
But if that hypothesis, let's call it the right-handed hypothesis, was correct,
you'd expect that left-handed artists would find it easier to paint right profiles.
But the research suggests that left-handed artists find it just as easy to paint left profiles as right.
So any other ideas?
Well, another theory is what's known as the parental imprinting hypothesis,
which proposes that people are more used to seeing left profiles because supposedly right-handed parents are more likely to hold their babies in their left arm.
Well, my sister just had a baby and she keeps talking about how her left arm is getting so much stronger than her right.
Ok, so there's some anecdotal evidence.
So, then when the baby looks up at their parent, what they see is the left profile.
Right. And so the theory goes:the left side of the face becomes imprinted in our memories.
But the parental imprinting hypothesis doesn't explain why left profiles have decreased over time.
I mean, parents are still carrying their babies in their left arm, right?
Exactly! All right, what about the way the artists' studio is organized, specifically the light source.
Remember that the light source determines where the shadows are.
So, if you're a right-handed artists, you'd want to the light coming from your left because you don't want your painting hand to cast a shadow across your canvas, right?
And if the light's coming from your left,
ou'd want your subject to turn to their right into the light. If they do that, what do you see?
The left side of their face.
Exactly, and well into the 20th century,
many an artist's primary light source would be the sun.
And they set up their studio to take maximum advantage of it.
But then what happens as other high-quality, portable, artificial light sources become available?
Well, you could position your subject in a lot more different ways and still have good lighting on your subject and on your canvas.
You'd expect to see a more balanced ratio of left- and right-side portraits.