Gerard ter Borch: The Language of the Nape

Gerard ter Borch, The Fatherly Rebuke, 1655

Gerard ter Borch, The Fatherly Rebuke, 1655

The language of the nape is that of timidity; discretion; shame. The nape speaks without words, as if embarrassed by the idea of language (the language of painting); shamed by the will to express, to communicate. The nape hints at itself only with gesture. Not the conscious, duplicitous and vulgar gesture of the face (organ of the social regime), but with the modesty and hesitation of the internal language (of the soul, of the heart) which the youthful unsure body would prefer to bury deep inside its flesh, but which the figure cannot hide for its lack of guile.

If the nape speaks, even in gesture alone, it breathes its syllables in barely audible whispers. To paint the nape is to efface the model’s self through the portrait; is the alternative to portraying the face’s sentimentality, its pathos. The nape traces an impression, a vague sign, a reserved form which imparts without revealing. The nape’s gestures do not propose to capture the individual’s essence, and in refusing to reveal, retain the mystery of the individual and become the mark of the portrait par excellence (akin to the downturned eyes of a Vermeer model). The nape provides the portrait of she who does not offer herself on the altar of the eye’s comprehension (without that vanity of refusing its gaze either).

The nape’s language expresses a secret without revealing; it keeps its mystery unbroken, undiluted. To look at a nape is to accept the secret’s presence (that of being) without endeavoring to divine what it might mean. The nape’s secret, its insoluble pubescent enigma belongs to the young girl more than any other being, the most mysterious of all creatures, inhabitant of a hidden internal world; fragile and incomprehensible.

What the nape divulges (tangentially) is the unease we cause by our will (by the will of our shameless and indelicate regard) – entrapped by the ease of sight’s promise of revelation, we wish to understand too much, to express too much, to desire too much. Refused the face of the young girl, the true object (subject) of these paintings, we are left to identify with the through visible visages which remain – the rebuking parent (desiring moral rectitude), the severe music teacher (desiring progress), the seducing card player (desiring the body itself). Whereas this young woman, with her back turned to us, hints shyly at her inner being though her nape, that diaphanous member which can express desire or pain, doubt or sadness, without ever providing us surety of the significance of its gesture. The neck’s tension, the hair’s form, the shoulder’s arch, the head’s loll are the vocables of she who suffers: the young woman enduring the will of others, the morals of society, the hopes of her parents, the lust of men, the eyes of the viewer.

Yet, in its enduring the nape never becomes the victim of these desires (unlike the easily fooled face), offering subtle, stoic resistance; resistance enforced through fragility. In tenuous stance, with insecurity and hesitation, the nape speaks the language (the image) of reluctance. Its forms are those of silence and humility (without the monk’s faith, the nun’s dogma). With the frailty of lace, the fragility of crystal, the nape accumulates delicacy with each stroke of the brush, and through its barely visible act of reticence endures torment while avoiding suffering’s moral. And this language of the nape is the indomitable internal force of all those who are weak, of all those who are strong.

Gerard ter Borch, The Concert, 1655

Gerard ter Borch, The Concert, 1655

Gerard ter Borch, The Cardplayers, ca. 1650

Gerard ter Borch, The Cardplayers, ca. 1650

Gerard ter Boch, A Woman in white Sateen in front of a Bed with red Curtains, ca. 1655

Gerard ter Boch, A Woman in white Sateen in front of a Bed with red Curtains, ca. 1655

 

 

 

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