Art: When Beauty Was Virtue

The great Italian Renaissance portraits of women were dream images. But truthful likenesses? No

In the catalog for "Virtue and Beauty," the show of portraits of Renaissance women on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington through Jan. 6, art historian Joanna Woods-Marsden poses a question that probably hasn't occurred to many people. We're used to seeing the human face photographed, drawn, scribbled and painted on movie and television screens, on billboards, in fact on a vast range of surfaces in our world, including the rock of Mount Rushmore. But suppose we weren't? Suppose that representations of real people were rarer than hens' teeth and that the only artificial faces and figures we...

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