A portrait in pieces: Félix Nadar’s La main du banquier D.

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Invoking the notion of the fragment discussed by Linda Nochlin, Henri Zerner, and Charles Rosen, this article examines how Félix Nadar’s La main du banquier D. exploits the body fragment to comment on identity and representation in the modern period. Exploring the limitations and devices of conventional portraiture, Nadar’s photograph of a banker’s hand suggests that one’s likeness and character can be read from a single body part. Nadar presents this hand as a portrait, but also as a ‘study in chirography’, an assertion that further situates the photograph in the interstice of word and image. As an exploration in both handwriting and hand-reading, La main du banquier D. looks to the medium of photography to reveal how personality manifests beyond the face. This article reframes Nadar’s image as a response to discourses on palmistry, physiognomy, and photography in 1860s France and considers how the photograph both deploys and complicates these empirical practices. Ultimately, through Nadar’s photograph, the hand emerges as cipher, synecdoche, and metaphor for the self, and this article argues that the image is symptomatic of what Zerner and Rosen have identified as a preference for metonymic representation in the modern period.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-98
Number of pages11
JournalWord and Image
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2021


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