Portrait, Lyric, Code: Reading the Face Before and After Laura Riding Jackson’s Body’s Head

By | 1 June 2022


By 1962, her forehead was so famed that while on loan from its permanent home in the Musée du Louvre, over 1.7 million people lined up at the Metropolitan Museum in New York to get a glimpse. Upon making it to the front of the line, they each had no more than twenty seconds to gaze. They gazed and gawked and gasped at the forehead’s wonderful luminescent glow. They noticed how it tilts and shimmers. They perceived the cracks and crevices that contradict its shine. Today, her expertly preserved forehead is encased in a vast concrete block, to protect her from the bourgeoise. But why does she have a line on her forehead, they ask? What is with that dark horizontal line? ‘I think I am qualified to answer this question,’ writes Antonio in an online art forum, ‘because I am quite literally obsessed with the painting.’ The line across her forehead is the edge of a diaphanous traditional veil. The headwear of a modest Florentine wife. A Parisian engineer also has things to say about her forehead, upon which he claims there were once perceptible brows. Erased? Washed into oblivion with each successive transparent glaze? The forehead does, after all, come first. A sense of before in rank, position, or place. Vorhaupt. Chief. The front part or earliest time. Now, the conspicuous blankness of her forehead suggests a child-like, acorn-shaped face. An expressionless expression. A riddle. A fleshy ambivalent plateau.

Wide and lonely ribbon,
Intrepid band stretched between temple and temple,
Last outpost of the intelligence
And white barrier between my knowing world
And what I cannot understand
A place of rampart from without,
And from within a wall
For my most desperate daring thoughts to dash against,
This is the desert space of my face.1

‘DALL·E 2 can create original, realistic images and art from a text description. It can combine concepts, attributes, and styles.’2

  1. Jackson, ‘Forehead.’ Poetry (1925), 61.
  2. DALL·E 2 OpenAI, online.
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