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Hidden Faces: Covered Portraits of the Renaissance

Highlighting the creativity and symbolism of covered portraits, this volume explores an intriguing but largely unknown aspect of Italian and Northern European Renaissance art.

Many Renaissance portraits—especially small, private works designed as handheld objects—were richly adorned with covers or backs bearing allegorical figures, mythological scenes, epigrams, and emblems that both celebrated the sitter and invited the viewer to decipher their meaning. Hidden Faces examines this intriguing but little-known aspect of portraiture in Italy and Northern Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, probing important questions about these works’ function, symbolism, and viewership. Texts by 13 distinguished scholars vividly illustrate that the other “faces” of these portraits represent some of the most innovative images of the Renaissance, created by masters such as Hans Memling, Lorenzo Lotto, and Titian. The selection of 70 objects, ranging in format from covered paintings and diptychs to coins and miniature boxes, illuminates the symbiotic relationship between the portrait and its pair. Uniting works that have in some cases been separated for hundreds of years, this fascinating volume shows how the multifaceted format unveiled layers of the sitter’s identity, prompting a sense of discovery—both by physically revealing the portrait and reading the significance behind its cover. Hardcover, 208 pages.

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