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Nick Donnelly, Beth Harland, Simon Liversedge; The influence of pupil alignment on the address of spectators to portraits painted by Edouard Manet.. Journal of Vision 2014;14(10):1286. doi: 10.1167/14.10.1286.
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Art theoretical accounts of the work of Edouard Manet describe it as challenging traditional forms of address made by paintings to spectators. His radical method conflates absorptive and theatrical modes of address, placing the spectator in an uncertain position in relation to the picture. His paintings often simultaneously acknowledge the viewer (theatrical mode), and offer little acknowledgement of the spectator's presence, thereby retaining aspects of an absorptive 'anti-theatrical' mode. Recently, we investigated the double relation to the spectator in Manet's seminal A Bar at the Folies Bergere (Harland et al., Leonardo, 2013). Here we examine pupil alignment as a mechanism for manipulating spectator address in his portrait paintings. Three art experts independently classified Manet's entire portfolio of (70) oil portraits that allowed judgment of perceived alignment or misalignment of pupils to a single point in space. Judgments were made separately for horizontal and vertical axes. We counted high confidence in judgments of alignment and misalignment when agreement was perfect across experts. 64% of portraits were classified with high confidence as having misaligned pupils on either horizontal or vertical axes. Of the portraits with misaligned pupils, 82% were misaligned on the horizontal axis. The significance of the relative difference in frequencies of misaligned and aligned pupils across horizontal and vertical axes was confirmed using a 2x2 Fisher Exact test (p<0.008). Our analyses demonstrate that Manet frequently painted portraits with misaligned pupils, and that this misalignment was heavily weighted to the horizontal axis (which may reflect the relative incidence of exo/esotropia versus hypo/hyperphoria in the general population). These findings are consistent with the suggestion that Manet introduced high levels of ambiguity in the sitter's gaze to complicate the usually inherent theatricality of the portrait form, and to introduce an ambiguous double address, at once absorptive and acknowledging.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2014
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