Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Men in Red Hats

The Duke of Altoona? 2011

Men of my father’s generation wouldn’t have thought of leaving the house without a hat, even if it was just to go to the hardware store. It’s said that John F. Kennedy ended all that when he didn’t wear a top hat to his inauguration, just as Clark Gable is said to have finished off the men’s undershirt industry when he appeared without one in It Happened One Night. Snopes declares the Kennedy story to be a myth. (The jury’s still out on Gable and the demise of the undershirt industry.)
Whatever the case, men’s hats used to be big, but aren’t now unless you’re a cowboy, a baseball player, a polar explorer or my friend Wally Torta, who came home from a trip to New Orleans last year sporting a canary blue fedora-like number.
My head’s always seemed too big for hats. I did go through a bit of a Panama hat period during college. I tried British-style boater for a while, too. But that was like wearing a hat made of foam core.
I was thinking about hats because as I looked at some of the pictures I’d taken at the recent Mid-Atlantic Shrine Association in Virginia Beach it occurred to me how much some of these guys recall Piero della Francesca’s famous portrait of Count Federico da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino. I don’t know if it’s their profile or just the red hats.
 Count Federico da Montefeltro, by Piero della Francesca

Many artists, by the way, have had fun with della Francesca’s portrait of Federico da Montefeltro through the years. Columbian painter Fernando Botero did this version (below):
 On Federico da Montefeltro, by Fernando Botero, 1998
The original della Francesca portrait is actually one half of a diptych that includes a portrait of the Count’s wife. Perhaps the most outrageous take off on this is a diptych of Carmela and Tony Soprano, painted by Sopranos actor Federico Castelluccio (“Furio”).
 The Duke and Duchess of North Caldwell, by Federico Castelluccio

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