Sunday, January 11, 2015

The hand-in-coat gesture, concealed carry, and oratory

Why do people in old paintings often have one hand tucked in their coat or shirt, like the famous portrait of Napoleon shown above?

In a recent Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon Zach Weiner explained:

“Photos were more expensive back then. So, if you needed a picture of yourself, what you’d do is point a gun at a painter and make him paint your portrait. But nobody wants a portrait of himself pointing a gun, so people would hide the gun in their coats while being painted.”

That’s funnier (and more obvious) than an article at Vigilant Citizen in 2009 titled The Hidden Hand that Shaped History which conspiratorially claimed it is a Masonic gesture.

There is a serious scholarly discussion on pages 45 to 63 in the March 1995 issue of The Art Bulletin. Arline Meyer wrote an article titled Re-dressing Classical Statuary: The Eighteenth-Century “Hand-in Waistcoat” Portrait. She discussed how textbooks about rhetoric had covered the use of gestures. On page 57 she described how:

“Directly bearing on the ‘hand in’ posture, and underpinning Nivelson’s description of it as ‘manly boldness tempered with modesty,’ is Bulwer’s ‘Sixth Canon for Rhetoricians,’ which claims that ‘the hand restrained and kept in an argument of modesty, and frugal pronunciation, a still and quiet action suitable to a mild and remiss declamation.’ The identification of modesty with ‘a hand withdrawn’ was first argued by Aeschines of Macedon (390 - 331 B.C.), an actor, orator, and founder of a school of rhetoric who was known for his magnificent voice and expressive gestures. Aeschines claimed that in the decorous days of Pericles and Themistocles, speaking with the arm outside the cloak was considered ill-mannered, and men of old refrained from doing so.” 

I saw a reference to Meyer yesterday in this newspaper article.

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