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"Face" Value

The Menil presents a treasure trove of portraits.

In Rembrandt's small, delicately etched piece, the eunuch is dressed in humble clothes and appears to willingly submit to baptism by Philip. A young black boy holds a parasol over their heads to shield them from the sun. To their left sits an exotically dressed man on a horse, and behind them is a chariot and horses lightly sketched into the background.

In Cuyp's lush painting, the eunuch is dressed as would be appropriate to his position as chief treasurer; he wears a brocade gown richly embroidered in gold. But although he kneels next to Philip, the man looks startled at what is taking place, as though something were lost in translation. A man in the chariot and another standing on the ground, both part of the eunuch's coterie, look on at the baptism with slightly bemused expressions. I imagined that when the eunuch saw the water, what he really said was, "Let's stop and get a drink," and Philip, fully intent upon baptizing a man he considered a savage, either misunderstood or refused to listen.

Joshua Reynolds's A Young Black exudes great dignity, but it is also a sad face.
Hickey-Robertson, Houston
Joshua Reynolds's A Young Black exudes great dignity, but it is also a sad face.

Even though the exhibition takes place in a relatively small space, each and every piece in "Face Off" is a treasure, from the pieces I have mentioned, to Goya's Disasters of War and Los Caprichos aquatints, to the sweetest Egyptian funerary mask I've ever seen. It's a great show, and I'm going back to see it. Hell, I might just move in.

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