LOO, Louis Michel van
(b. 1707, Toulon, d. 1771, Paris)

Portrait of Denis Diderot

Oil on canvas, 81 x 65 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Wigs played an important role in 17th-century portraits. The exact origin of this accessory is not clean, but they were certainly widespread in distinguished circles by 1620-30. Wigs lent faces - and therefore all portraits - a similar impact because of a similar framework of ringlets and curls. Whether bald or not, people choose the colour of their hair according to the attire to be worn and the event to be attended. Louis XIV and all French princes were highly attentive to such points.

Bare-headed portraits, like van Loo's depiction of Diderot, were the stuff of intellectuals and free-thinkers who asserted their independence and flaunted their character.