Revisited Myth #3: Men posed with one hand inside the vest to save money since portrait painters gave a discount if they didn’t have to go to the extra work of painting the fingers.

1950-226   

       Aw, come on . . .

       Also known as the “arm and a leg” myth: that the expression about something costing an arm and a leg came about because portrait painters charged more if they had to paint the subject’s arms or legs. There is no historical verification for either of these myths. In fact, early photographs of men often show this pose, and there was no question about saving money by hiding a hand in photography. mcclellan

      The simple fact is that standing with one hand tucked inside a vest or jacket was a popular, dignified pose for gentlemen and royalty of that era. Do you really think that the Emperor Napoleon, King George III, or President George Washington were particularly concerned about getting a discount from their portrait painters? 

     This was a portrait cliche that appeared “with relentless frequency in England in the eighteenth century,” says art historian Arline Meyer in an article titled “Re-Dressing Classical Statuary: The Eighteenth-Century ‘Hand-in-Waistcoat’ Portrait” (March 1995: The Art Bulletin). (To read the article, see http://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-1498627/re-dressing-classical-statuary-the-eighteenth-centuryThe pose goes all the way back to the classical era when the proper stance for formal public speaking was having one hand inside the toga. By the eighteenth century, it had become a trademark pose for men of quality, nobles, and royals. Having a portrait painted was the prerogative of a distinguished gentleman, and the hand-in-vest pose was another symbol of his stature. Other common “show off” symbols include a window from which one can see the subject’s fine mansion, and props such as an oriental rug on the table to indicate wealth and books to indicate a scholarly mind.

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4 Responses to Revisited Myth #3: Men posed with one hand inside the vest to save money since portrait painters gave a discount if they didn’t have to go to the extra work of painting the fingers.

  1. This myth is quite hilarious.

  2. Jake Pontillo says:

    This myth even pops up in the Movie Goya’s Ghosts a 2006 Spanish-American film, directed by Miloš Forman, In it the Inquisitor is negotiating for his portrait to be painted and they decide that no hands would be showing, to save money

    • Mary Miley says:

      How horrifying! To be sure, most portrait artists will tell you that hands are difficult to paint, but still . . .

  3. Cassidy says:

    Somewhat related: I think I gave up trying to read The Secret History of the Pink Carnation when an English governess castigated Napoleon for “rudely” standing with a hand in his coat (also, he had “diminutive stature”). It seemed like ignorance of the pose existing in other people’s portraits, and an assumption that it was a strange habit of Buonaparte’s.

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