Here is Why Smiles are Rare in Art History

For many, the museum presents a foreboding experience, a sacred temple that is uninviting to those unwilling to embrace the solemnity that viewing “great art” requires. Perhaps it’s not the classical columns or imposing marble staircases that create an aura of pompous seriousness. Walking down those grand halls among hundreds of years of masterpieces, there’s rarely a face smiling out at you.
For most of recorded human history, the open smile has been “deeply unfashionable,” observes writer Nicholas Jeeves in his essay “The Serious and the Smirk: The Smile in Portraiture.” Today, we perceive smiling as an indication of friendliness, happiness, or affection. It’s a prerequisite for photographs. We might at first think that Westerners of centuries past refrained from smiling for portraits to avoid showing off their bad teeth. In fact, poor dental hygiene was so common that it wasn’t considered a detractor of attractiveness.

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