Head of a Man, 1818

Head of a Man

by Merry-Joseph Blondel

He’s been dead for so long. His coat was probably left on him or it was tossed over a chair in an attic somewhere. The flesh-based coat was treated, so it’s probably more intact than its owner right now.

He hasn’t even really been dead for so long. A lot of people have been dead for longer. People we think we know something about have been dead for longer. George Washington, Michelangelo, Charlemagne, Queen Elizabeth, St Peter, King David. This guy was around at a time that many of us can trace our direct ancestors to. Yet every single person that has ever known the sound of his voice, the peculiarity of his walk, and the shy way he smiled is dead too. People like to say that dead people aren’t really dead as long we remember them. Besides the obvious problems, this statement doesn’t comfort so very much because, unless the deceased have an immortal friend or two, they will be forgotten.

I don’t know what this man smelled like, or how he moved when he walked. I do know that he was capable of a pretty good stare. How his stare matched the other stares of his time, of course I must admit ignorance. But if he were alive today, and he could stare like that, he would have a class-A stare. And he really did. He really actually met Blondel, said good morning, drank some coffee, and sat still while a painted copy of the image of his face was applied to the longer-lived canvas. “Should I smile, or, I don’t know. I’ve never done this kind of thing before.”

He left Blondel’s studio, ate some bread on his walk home. Maybe he was dreading telling his wife that he had posed for a painter. She was decidedly more common than he. He was not so rich now. Nobody was. He stayed in the country during the revolution, hiding on the farm of a friend. It was really his father’s friend. The brother of a cousin’s sister, or something like that. He married the daughter of the farmer. Anyway. Doesn’t matter now. Everyone that he offended when he took her as his wife is gone. The boy that was five years her junior that wanted to marry her is gone for over a century. The little son that was born seven months after they wed is gone. Their grandkids who never knew about this painting, the one grandkid that did spot grandpa’s face hanging in a gallery (based on the hair, of course) is also gone.

I don’t mean to depress anybody. It’s just the fact of life. It’s going to end and everybody will forget you. Unless, like I said, you have an immortal friend.

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