In Oxford recently I went to a talk by Sir Anthony Seldon on the substance of his new book Beyond Happiness: The Trap of Happiness and How to Find Deeper Meaning and Joy. I found him a compelling speaker and could have listened to him share his hard-won wisdom for hours. He is candid in the book, and in person, about his own perceived failings, and evangelical in his desire to help others recognise and overcome theirs, and to point them towards a better way of living. His current personal circumstances only add to the weight of his words.
Here in Edinburgh the other day I heard Joanna Trollope at the National Gallery of Scotland talk on a novelist's view of portraiture. "Our faces are our shop window to the world," she says, and a portrait is "the ultimate tribute, the final monument ... having a majesty a photograph can seldom achieve." As a judge of the BP Portrait Award last year she has studied and appraised more 'likenesses' than most of us, and as a contributor to the Imagined Lives exhibition at the NPG in 2011/12 she created fictional biographical material for the unknown sitters of 16th- and 17th-century portraits.
As a novelist, she has always looked at faces very intently - people are her stock-in-trade - and she works with a strong (mental) visual image of her characters, although she has never created a character based on a portrait, as Tracy Chevalier has so successfully done. In her lecture she looked at four famous portraits*, discussed the faces their sitters are presenting to the world, the eloquence of their expression as captured by the artist, and the messages - implicit or overt - they convey.