It is the surest fact of our existence, one we can never escape, one that no one else can do for us and that we can never be certain when will actually happen: our death. Death has long denoted the ultimate boundary of our individual lives, yet as Richard Brilliant shows in this moving book, there are ways that we can actually surpass it. Exploring the worlds of religion, ritual, and art, he shows how we have used memory to live a life everlasting.
Brilliant examines the ways that an individual’s ethos can live on long after the biological body perishes. It does so through the collective memories of survivors, being passed down to subsequent generations. Such “remainings” are created by rituals and reinforced through commemorations and obituaries and projected through art and architecture. These powerful inducements to remember counter the finality of physical death, bridging the gap between absence and presence. Weaving together a rich collection of texts and images and guiding them with deeply meaningful insights, Brilliant offers a reflective meditation on the methods that artists, architects, and writers have developed to activate memory and animate their subjects into robust afterlife. In this way, he shows, death need no longer be seen as a terminal departure but rather a transformation into a new form of existence, one carried on by the communion of others.
This is the first general and theoretical study devoted entirely to portraiture. Drawing on a broad range of images from Antiquity to the twentieth century, which includes paintings, sculptures, prints, cartoons, postage stamps, medals, documents and photographs, Richard Brilliant investigates the genre as a particular phenomenon in Western art that is especially sensitive to changes in the perceived nature of the individual in society.
The author's argument on behalf of portraiture (and he draws on examples by such artists as Botticelli, Rembrandt, Matisse, Warhol and Hockney) does not comprise a mere survey of the genre, nor is it a straightforward history of its reception. Instead, Brilliant presents a thematic and cogent analysis of the connections between the subject-matter of portraits and the beholder's response – the response he or she makes to the image itself and to the person it represents. Portraiture's extraordinary longevity and resilience as a genre is a testament to the power of this imaginative transaction between the subject, the artist and the beholder.