Faces of a face

Portraiture as a means of representing faces

by Renáta Kišoňová (Author)
©2019 Monographs 164 Pages
Series: Spectrum Slovakia, Volume 31


The book focuses on the phenomenon of a face in philosophical, cognitive, and aesthetical context. Text is divided into two main parts: the first is considering the face as an object. The second part is about specific facets of the face and how faces are portrayed in portraits. The text focuses on the etymology of the term «face» and its semantic roots. It considers various uses of the word «face» in metaphors and the idea that through a metaphorical use of the word face, there is a link to human identity or personality. The second part of this book details portraits, their etymology and semantic roots, history and various functions in history. Regarding the various transformations of portraits and mainly the invention of photography, it also deals with the problem of the end, or death of a portrait.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgement
  • An Introduction
  • The Face
  • Metaphorical Face
  • On Etymology and Semantic Roots of “Face”
  • The Face as an Object of Representation
  • Some Historical Notes
  • Physiognomy
  • Perception of a Face
  • Face Revealed through Loss
  • Facial Perception of the Blind
  • Facial Perception of Autists
  • On Caricature
  • Portrait
  • A Few Mythological Stories
  • On Etymology and the Semantic Roots of Portraits
  • Eikaisia
  • Imago
  • Effigies
  • Il ritratto, retrato
  • Portrait
  • Some Historical Notes
  • Fayum
  • Later Development
  • Functions of a Portrait
  • Portrait as Art
  • Portrait as a Biography
  • Portrait as a Document
  • Portrait as a Gift
  • Portrait as Commemoration and Memorial
  • Portrait as a Political Tool
  • Non-representational Portraits
  • Portrait as a Puzzle
  • Portrait Revealed through Loss
  • Death of a Portrait?
  • On Symbol
  • The Meaning of Context and Metaphors
  • There Is No Innocent Eye
  • Neurasthenics Considering Aesthetic Perception
  • Portrait of Gertrude Stein
  • Portrait of Dora Maar
  • Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler
  • A Little Digression on the Mask
  • Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne
  • Reflection (Self-Portrait)
  • Girl in Bed
  • Portrait as Pioneer
  • Black Face
  • On Symmetry
  • Portrait of Ferdinand VII
  • Senecio
  • Adele Bloch-Bauer I
  • Digression on Facial Attractiveness and Conclusion
  • Measuring Facial Attractiveness
  • Averageness
  • Straight Profiles
  • On Intersexual Differences
  • Other Aspects
  • Bibliography

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Have you seen the famous movie with John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, Face/Off from 1997? The film has a simple storyline: Sean Archer (John Travolta) is an FBI special agent who underwent a highly experimental face transplant procedure to take the appearance of his nemesis, homicidal sociopath Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) in order to obtain important information from Troy’s brother. Meanwhile, Troy incredibly awakens from a coma, discovers that his face is missing and forces chirurg to transplant Archer’s face onto his body. Now comes the real essence of the film: issues for the agent with a criminal’s face, dealing with the new identity and the desire to regain his own face back.

You could say that this is just a movie, and I would agree. But let’s consider a true story from 27 November 2005 when a major event in facial transplant surgery occurred; the first surgical transplant of a face, performed by French surgeon, Bernard Devauchelle. Up until then, only organs like the heart had been transplanted, or limbs such as fingers, but never an entire face (except in fictional movies or literature). The whole world’s media covered this premiere event and recorded statements made by the recipient, a woman whose entire lower face, (the nose, mouth, chin, and cheeks), was torn apart by a dog. She underwent the first ever facial surgery which did not restore her original looks and give her back her face. Her comment to the media after the surgeries is worth quoting:

“I could not breathe through the nose since I had none left. I had slipped into another world. I would not dare leaving my room. I already had trouble looking at myself, but to impose it on others…It was monstrous, traumatic, and unpresentable. In front of the mirror, the impression that this was not me never left me…So, this face, it is not me. It will never be me. I often look at myself in the mirror; at first I would not stop. I was looking for my old traits and I could not look at my former photos. It was too painful. Now, I am getting used to it. And I desire more and more to see my former pictures… They have tried to convince me that I am not so different from before, but I am in the best place to judge! And the answer is: so very different! A part of me and my identity have disappeared forever. And I cherish in me the memories of what I was.”1

A few years later she declared, “When I look at myself in the mirror, I see that this is not my real face. At first I avoided mirrors. Today, when ←11 | 12→I pass my reflection, I don´t turn around as if it was not me that I have just seen. I have appropriated my new face, but I know that part does not belong to me.”2

For Isabelle Dinoire, the patient who received the first transplant in the history of maxillofacial surgery, looking at herself meant to accept the face of a deceased donor.

The heart-breaking and uncompromising statement above addresses possibly all of the anthropological and psychological issues related to the face.

What is a face? What did a face mean to her, and what does the face mean for us all? Does our face represent an identity? How is it even possible to incorporate, at least a partial new face to an “old identity”?

Another significant event happened on 29 March 2010, when a thirty-year-old Spaniard underwent a total face transplant. He woke up in a Barcelona hospital after shooting himself in an attempted suicide. Before the surgery, he had neither a nose nor mouth. Afterwards, he had a completely new face, which does not resemble the donor’s. The operation took 22 hours, during which the patient had all facial skin and muscles transplanted, as well as a nose, lips, teeth, cheekbones and mandible. After recuperating, he was not only satisfied but extremely grateful.

These issues concerning the face as an identity represent one interpretation of the “face”. Another, equally important is the face in portraits.

It seems that our face has many faces. I will discuss some of them in this book.

1 See the double page dedicated to the event in Le Monde. Annick Cojean: La femme aux deux visages, 7th July, 2007, pp. 20–21. All quotations from the original article were taken from the book En Face. Seven Essays on the Human Face. Kritische Berichte. Marburg: Jonas, 2012.

2 See Journal du Dimanche, 29th March, 2009. Isabelle Dinoire: La dernière chose que je ne peux pas encore faire, c´est un baiser. Translated by Jennifer Cabral Poejo.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (March)
portrait symbol perception attractivity aesthetics meaning
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 164 pp., 20 fig. col.

Biographical notes

Renáta Kišoňová (Author)

Renáta Kišoňová focuses on the problems of cognitive aesthetics and metaphysics. She studied philosophy at Faculty of Philosophy and Arts, Trnava University. Her main research interest focuses on the problem of representing face on the portraits.


Title: Faces of a face
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166 pages