Medallion Mosaic Roman, Marble Portrait Bust of a Man
ca. A.D. 69-96. Marble, H. 17 in. (43.2cm).
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund.
Chuck Close Self-Portrait Maquette, 1968 Chuck Close, Bill Clinton/maquette, 2006
color Iris print, masking tape, and black and red ballpoint pen mounted on foamcore, 32 x 26
Private collection
Photograph courtesy the artist and Pace/MacGill Gallery
© Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery

The Visual Language of Politics

Chuck Close's 2006 portrait of former President Clinton and a first-century Roman bust depicting an unknown male subject conform to a similar compositional scheme despite their obvious difference in medium. Additionally, the two works also share physical features including short hair, a strong chin, and prominent cheek bones. These similarities allow us to better analyze the subtle language of pose, facial expression, and costume in male portraiture.

Taken nearly ten years after the end of Clinton's second term, Close has reproduced the famous charisma of the former president. Clinton leans towards and looks directly at the camera. Both his smirk and the lighting that accentuates his eyes contribute to the warm, inviting feel of this image. Harsh highlights accentuate Clinton's developing wrinkles, and a second light behind his head draws attention to the whitening of his hair. Despite being nine years out of office, Close's subject is shown in that anonymous costume preferred by Western heads of state---the business suit. By contrast, the Roman bust of an unknown male appears in nudity, closes his body towards the viewer, and appears to look over, rather than at, his audience. This is hardly the casual, relatable personality we see constructed in Close's work. Where the portrait of Bill Clinton masks his office's enthusiasm for swift military operations abroad, the Roman work celebrates its subject's ability to shrewdly wield masculine power, or at least the aspiration to.