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Spectators and Actors. Actresses and Spectators: Four Centuries of Portrait Painting

7. October 2010 – 16. January 2012

This exhibition explores the history of the portrait, its functions and transformations, based on 100 selected paintings from 1600 to 1945.

For centuries, portraits served primarily as vehicles for representation – rather than for the depiction of emotional states or passions. The images reflected courtly and bourgeois lifestyles and patterns of representation. They offer information about the changing presentations of masculinity and femininity, of fashions, clothing and hairstyles.

The question arises: Are there or were there explicitly gay or lesbian portraits, could there have been any such portraits in times of repression? Of course there were always pictures of homosexual people, but are they different than those of their heterosexual contemporaries? What do the images reveal about individual wishes and dreams, and what remains hidden behind the representative façade? All of the subjects of portraiture are witnesses to their times, to the ways of life and ideals of the day. So they have much to tell us. They were actors and actresses, yet simultaneously they are spectators.

Fashion, too, always says something about the mentalities of those who wear it and about the society in which they live. The exhibition follows social and societal changes – from the magnificent displays of men’s fashion in the era of King Ludwig XIV, to women in masculine riding habits after 1800, all the way to openly depicted cross-dressing and homosexual relations in the early 20th century – only to name a few of the major lines of development.

The exhibition does raise many questions and attempts to offer some answers. However, the entire thematic complex and the contextualization of gays and lesbians within it requires further systematic research.

Curators: Anton Stern, Maik Krüger