Why do we presume that outward appearance expresses inner depth? What ideological and cultural frameworks need to be in place for us to look to the body to better discern the soul? The answer to these questions, Sarah Blackwood argues in her radiant and revelatory book The Portrait's Subject, lies in portraiture, images of surface likeness. Between the invention of photography in 1839 and that of the X-ray in 1895, portraiture emerged as an important arena for exploring new ideas about psychological complexity. Collating a wide array of materials—from the changing figuration of a self-emancipated Black man in The North Star’s masthead and Thomas Eakins's paintings to Nathaniel Hawthorne's and Henry James's portrait fiction—Blackwood's book meticulously documents the real and imagined portraits that made it possible for Americans to understand themselves, in ways never before, as psychologically “deep.”

The Portrait's Subject is about the creation and disciplining of interiority...

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