Looking at trends in how people posed for portraits through the ages can reveal a lot about how society has shifted over the years. Today it’s the duckface, in the sixties it was flashing a peace sign, and in the nineteenth century it was… shoving your hand through the gap between the buttons of your waistcoat.
This was such a phenomenon that people with advanced degrees have written actual scholarly articles about it. Why did gentlemen of the 17-and-1800s do this? Here are some theories.
1. The subject had a stomachache.
2. The artist didn’t feel like painting hands.
3. It was a pose implying “manly boldness tempered with modesty.”
4. It was a throwback to common themes in Greek and Roman sculpture and portraiture, especially when depicting politicians and respected orators.
3. Social mores of the time deeming putting one’s hands in one’s pockets rude. I don’t really see how sticking a hand inside your clothes is less rude, but times have changed.
Whatever his reasons, Napoleon is one of the most famous offenders. In several of his official portraits there he is, gazing regally into the ‘camera’ while groping his own chest. Ah, dignity.
In any case, I’m not sure why this present-day New Yorker was pulling a Napoleon. Maybe he had an itch.
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