Face and Mask
A Double History
Hans Belting
Translated by Thomas S. Hansen and Abby J. Hansen

Editions

A cultural history of the face in Western art, ranging from portraiture in painting and photography to film, theater, and mass media

This fascinating book presents the first cultural history and anthropology of the face across centuries, continents, and media. Ranging from funerary masks and masks in drama to the figural work of contemporary artists including Cindy Sherman and Nam June Paik, renowned art historian Hans Belting emphasizes that while the face plays a critical role in human communication, it defies attempts at visual representation.

Belting divides his book into three parts: faces as masks of the self, portraiture as a constantly evolving mask in Western culture, and the fate of the face in the age of mass media. Referencing a vast array of sources, Belting's insights draw on art history, philosophy, theories of visual culture, and cognitive science. He demonstrates that Western efforts to portray the face have repeatedly failed, even with the developments of new media such as photography and film, which promise ever-greater degrees of verisimilitude. In spite of sitting at the heart of human expression, the face resists possession, and creative endeavors to capture it inevitably result in masks—hollow signifiers of the humanity they're meant to embody.

From creations by Van Eyck and August Sander to works by Francis Bacon, Ingmar Bergman, and Chuck Close, Face and Mask takes a remarkable look at how, through the centuries, the physical visage has inspired and evaded artistic interpretation.

Hans Belting has held chairs in art history at the universities of Heidelberg and Munich and has been a visiting professor at Harvard, Columbia, and Northwestern. He also cofounded and taught at the School for New Media in Karlsruhe, Germany. His many books include An Anthropology of Images (Princeton), Florence and Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science, Looking through Duchamp's Door, The Invisible Masterpiece, and Art History after Modernism.