Elite

Image

I am always fascinated by photos of famous or brilliant people. Their frozen images are still and powerless. You struggle to visualise them as moving living creatures, impatient to be progressing their private agendas, certain in their own rightness.

In my days I have at times trespassed on the personal space of such individuals, and flinched at their ruckled demeanour as they dismissed me from their urgent path, an uninteresting irrelevance. I recognised this character recently on encountering van Eyck’s study of Cardinal Albergati. Lips pressed together, the squint in his eyes, the temporary indulgence of the pose, this politician and papal diplomat wanted to burnish his image and authority through the groundbreaking innovation of personal, profane portraiture. He was prepared to sit for a while under the artist’s gaze, but in such a pause his mind is flooded with schemes and projects, and he is eager to be on his way.

If these people pay you any attention, it is because they see some utility for furthering their ends. Unless you too have the potential to enter the ranks of the clever and powerful, you must permit yourself to be trodden on with such passivity that they hardly notice your own subjectivity. Any attempt otherwise to detain or to divert becomes once again an irritating encumbrance, occasioning once more that same impatient disdain.