by Charles Miano
First: What is a tronie?
Tronie: (16/17th-century Dutch for “face”) is a common type, or group of types, of works common in Dutch Golden Age painting and Flemish Baroque painting that shows an exaggerated facial expression or a stock character in costume.
Tronies are a favorite art form of mine and they have been treasured by artists for centuries. In the Baroque era, artists such as Rembrandt were known to collect costumes and outﬁt their sitters with historical or fanciful dress to depict certain characters. Many of these works portrayed biblical, or mythological ﬁgures. Others contained allusions to youth, old age, wisdom, grief, faith, or mortality. For the artist, the informal nature of the tronie can provide an opportunity for expressing painterliness.
I ﬁnd them thrilling! It is amazing what a face can convey. When I was a young lad, I grew up around theater performers, musicians, preachers, and thespians of all kinds. My father was in show business, so performing in front of people was a Miano family requirement. Even if I felt shy or introverted, I was encouraged to get out there on stage and perform. In fact, I played in bands, acted in plays, and performed on tv shows! That was before I was asked to paint the theatrical sets for the drama school productions.
Those in drama know that to get the attention of a viewer from afar, exaggerated expressions and colorful characters can be incredibly impactful. These caricatures are a useful device to tell stories or elicit strong emotions in an audience. This has deﬁnitely inﬂuenced me as I paint today. I have always been drawn to interesting characters and colorful personalities.
Shown here are a few of my recent tronies. These are usually done rapidly from life and are meant to capture the particular essence of the individual. Whether that personality be a beautiful young ingenue, a spirited old man, or someone in traditional ethnic dress.
My painting “Sir Kelly Bailey” for instance, personiﬁes just how expressive a face can be. You can almost hear his voice calling as he is portrayed here with an opened, snaggletoothed mouth, caught in mid-sentence! His wild facial hair and ﬂamboyant feather in his cap all sum up what kind of hearty Scottish horseman he is. His skin and expression communicate a life well lived outdoors, contrasting with the elegant timepiece on his clasped, highland cloak, which conveys a person of stature.
The action of the brushwork in this piece is another characteristic, meant to give an additional sense of movement and life to this robust personality. Most importantly, I tried to capture how the light eﬀect falls across his head and mustache giving the painting a further sense of drama.
Like much of my work, I attempt to create action and life by means of bold brushstrokes contrasted with careful realism. This allows one to almost see how the painting was made and yet identify with the human being portrayed. This is what I admire in many tronies of the past such as those created by Frans Hals, Jan Lievens, Johannes Vermeer, and others.
I hope to continue to play in the classic tronie genre and tell the story of individual human characters that we all can be both entertained and inspired by.
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