A Brief History of the Smile

A Brief History of the Smile

by Angus Trumble
     
 

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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. 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

Overview


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. 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.In A Brief History of the Smile, Angus Trumble deftly combines art, poetry, history, and biology into an intriguing portrait of the many nuances of the smile. Elegantly illustrating his points with emblematic works of art, from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European paintings to Japanese woodblock prints, Trumble explores the meanings of smiling in a variety of cultures and contexts. Effortlessly mingling erudition, wit, and personal anecdote, Trumble weaves a seamless interdisciplinary tapestry, bringing his expertise as a writer, historian, and thinker to bear on the art of smiling in this warm and perceptive work.

Editorial Reviews

USA Today
Trumble ranges through the vast array of smiles: the sexual leer, the sneering smirk, the malicious grin, the professional come-hither lip curl of the prostitute, the blissful expression displayed by Buddha. It appears that almost every culture has celebrated the smiles of babies as natural, unforced and charming. — Deirdre Donahue
Roxana Popescu
Why do English-speaking people say ''Cheese!'' but Chinese speakers say ''Eggplant''? Why does the Cheshire cat grin? Through rigorous research and unmistakable curiosity, Trumble pushes his subject to unexpectedly rewarding depths.
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
All smiles may be triggered by an "instantaneous chemical reaction in the brain," but that's where their similarities end, says art historian and curator Trumble in this eclectic and engaging look at the phenomenon throughout art and history and across cultures. He breezily traces the representation of the smile, from its mild, mask-like expression in early Greek sculpture to its ever-debated, enigmatic presence on da Vinci's Mona Lisa, to its gaping glory days in 17th-century Dutch and Flemish painting. Unabashed tooth display in formal portraiture was frowned upon right up to the 20th century, when sufficient progress had been made in the fields of photography and dentistry to usher in the wide-mouthed grin. Trumble travels east to explain the Indonesian smile, often misread by Westerners as unconditionally welcoming, and to present the evolutions of the Muslim concept of purdah, "the most obvious form of modesty or physical concealment," as well as the Japanese custom of tooth-blackening, which coyly flirted with Oriental notions of "exposing and concealing." Readers learn that Buddha's transcendent beam represents intelligence, compassion and ethereality, while the fleeting appearance of the "Gothic smile" in 12th-century Christian iconography is considered a departure from more characteristic Jesus imagery. Trumble also tackles a bit of science, detailing the smile's physiological mechanisms; child development, explaining the involuntary radiance of infants; and trends, examining our celebrity-crazed, Angelina-lipped pop culture. Since Trumble sets out to tackle "the smile in the broadest possible sense," his resulting chronicle, while packed with factoids and whimsy (who knew George Washington wore a makeshift bridge of carved hippopotamus teeth?) feels fun but diffuse. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Chronicling something as ephemeral as a smile can be a tricky thing. For art historian Trumble, the task at first seemed simple: How has the smile been depicted in art through the ages? The search was less than easy, however, and certain smiles-such as the open-mouth, full-toothed smile-were difficult to locate. In this genial exploration of the depicted smile, Trumble touches on such topics as the meaning of the smile in different cultures, the use of lipstick and tooth-dyeing, and the relationship between smiling and laughing. In an art historical mode, Trumble traces the changing meaning of a smile through ages, media, and cultures. Among the meanings explicated are lewdness, desire, mirth, wisdom, deceit, and even, perhaps, happiness. The primary focus of the book is Western art of the last millennium, including such examples as the Mona Lisa, Franz Hals's The Laughing Cavalier, the works of Ingres and Hogarth, the Cheshire Cat, and the "Smiley Face." However, there are excursions into the world of early Greek and Asian art. This work makes an interesting bookend to James Elkins's Pictures and Tears and is suitable for comprehensive public and special collections.-Martin R. Kalfatovic, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465087792
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
01/31/2005
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
5.34(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.75(d)

Meet the Author


Angus Trumble is a graduate of the University of Melbourne and of New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. He has worked for Christie's in New York, and has been curator of European paintings and sculpture at the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide. He is currently curator of paintings and sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art. He has written seven books, and lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

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