It has been said that supreme enlightenment is reflected in the holy smile of the Buddha. Yet, the Victorians thought of open-mouthed smiling as obscene, and nineteenth-century English and American slang equated “smiling” with drinking whisky. Every smile is the product of physical processes common to all humans. But since the dawn of civilization, the upward movement of the muscles of the face has carried a bewildering range of meanings. In A Brief History of the Smile, Angus Trumble deftly weaves art, poetry, history and biology into an intriguing portrait of the many nuances of the human smile. Elegantly illustrating his points with emblematic works of art, from 18th and 19th century European paintings to Japanese woodblock prints, Trumble explores the meanings of smiling in a variety of cultures and contexts. But he also asks key questions about the behavioral and psychological aspects of smiling: When and how in infancy does human smiling become a profound act of communication? Is smiling unique to human beings? How does smiling function to foster our attachments to each other? Effortlessly mingling erudition, wit, and personal anecdote, Trumble weaves a seamless interdisciplinary tapestry. An established talent in the art worlds of Europe, Europe and Australia, Trumble challenges our most deeply held assumptions about smiling. In his analysis of Jusepe de Ribera’s Girl Playing a Tambourine, Trumble explores the sinister side of the smile-the leer, the snarl, the lewd grin. And from J.A. Ingres’ portrait of the Princesse de Broglie, he extracts the implications of “public” smiling, the tension between decorum and beauty. Trumble brings his expertise as a writer, historian and thinker to bear on the art of smiling in this charming and distinctive work.
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