Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

Fanny Price and the Family Profiles

Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

Fanny Price and the Family Profiles

Article excerpt

THE LITTLE WHITE ATTIC, the bedroom given to Fanny Price after she comes to live at Mansfield Park, is too small to accommodate her plants and books. She gradually adds these and other possessions to the more spacious East room. There she keeps several "elegancies and ornaments," including

   a faded footstool of Julia's work, too ill done for the
   drawing-room, three transparencies, made in a rage for
   transparencies, for the three lower panes of one window, where
   Tintern Abbey held its station between a cave in Italy, and a
   moonlight lake in Cumberland; [and] a collection of family
   profiles, thought unworthy of being anywhere else. (152)

After a distressing evening during which her cousin Tom Bertram urges her to take a part in the play Lovers' Vows, Fanny goes to her "nest of comforts . . . to see if by looking at Edmund's profile she could catch any of his counsel" (152). She indicates her respect for her cousin and his virtues by looking to his portrait for guidance. For Austen's contemporary readers, the fact that it is a profile portrait would have held special significance: this format was associated with the pseudo-science of physiognomy, the judging of character from facial features.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the custom of having one's portrait made had gained a new popularity in England with the rise of such artists as Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Lawrence. Profile portraits in imitation of Greek vase painting and Roman coinage were particularly fashionable throughout Europe and America as a result of archaeological discoveries in Herculaneum and Pompeii, which led to a renewed interest in the art of the Classical world. Sideways-view portraits were executed in medallions of wax, plaster, metal, and ceramic, and were made in graphite, pastel, and watercolor on paper, using a screen to draw the sitter's shadow cast by a lit candle. Gilles-Louis Chretien's invention of 1783-1784, the physiognotrace, made the mechanical production of profiles quick and profitable. (1) The profilist looked through an eyepiece at the sitter, who was seated on the far side of the machine, and then used a bar to trace the lines of the sitter's face. The bar moved a pantograph, which consisted of a set of adjustable interconnected bars forming a parallelogram. At its joint was a pencil, which drew the sitter's profile onto a piece of paper attached to the center of the instrument. The profilist then drew in the eyes, hair, and other details with chalk. (See Figure 1.) These drawings were often used to create engraved prints, which were sold to the sitter along with the original (Miles and Dowdy 43-45).

The physiognotrace was also used to produce the most prevalent type of profile portrait of the era, one with a solid interior, variously called a shade, shadow, or, as we now call it, silhouette. (2) After the outline of the person's face was reproduced with the machine onto a sheet of light-colored paper, the negative image was cut away and the paper was laid onto a dark background, producing a "hollow-cut." A profile could also be "cut and pasted," a process whereby the figure was cut free-hand out of dark paper and then pasted onto a light background. Still others were painted on ivory, plaster, paper, card, or in reverse on glass, and smaller examples were mounted in rings and brooches.

A number of silhouettes of Austen's family and friends have survived. (3) Noted profilist Mrs. Harrington of Bath produced hollow-cut silhouettes of Mr. and Mrs. James Leigh-Perrot, Jane Austen's uncle and aunt. (See Figures 2 and 3.) John Miers painted a profile image of Austen's sister, Cassandra, who was also captured in silhouette in later life. Austen's parents, the Reverend George and Mrs. Cassandra Austen, had their silhouettes taken in about 1800. (4) Although bust-length silhouettes such as these were most numerous, artists also produced full-length profiles of individuals and groups, including conversation pieces of entire families together. …

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