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The Son of Man by Rene Magritte Report


“The Son of Man”, a 1964 painting by the Belgian artist Rene Magritte, depicts a man in a bowler hat with his face obscured by a green apple which surprises the observers and motivates them to think the symbolic meaning of using the technique of hiding a part of the visible over. Choosing a model for physical presentation of the painting and appropriate background for intensifying the observers’ impression from it requires considering the prevailing tones and mood of the artwork.

Description of the space

The physical presentation of an artwork, the choice of the location and the overall atmosphere of the space can have a significant impact on the observers’ perception. Considering the tones and colours chosen by Rene Magritte for his painting “The Son of Man” along with the peculiarities of the composition and its originality, a white or a pastel wall of an urban gallery can be regarded as the best background for this work.

The interpretation of some signs which are not seen at the first glance, such as the backward bend of the left elbow of the man and his eyes which can be only partially seen over the edge of the apple, requires concentration of the observers’ attention on the painting, its details and symbolic signs.

For this reason, it is preferable to avoid creating accents and contrasts while choosing the background for the painting. This panting is aimed at providing viewers with food for thought and raising the philosophical questions of hiding parts of visible objects in general and the man’s face as a symbol of his personal identity in particular. It means that the principle “the simpler the better” can be applied for the choice of the surrounding for “The Son of Man”.

The lighting should not be too bright so that not to contrast the cloudy sky and the prevailing grey tones of the painting, on the one hand, and to preserve and intensify the impression produced by an enigmatic man standing in front of the low wall in unnatural posture with his face obscured with a hovering apple. In general, Magritte’s painting does not need any special background but requires regulation of the lighting for maintaining the atmosphere of mystery.

The ideal display process

The ideal display process for “The Son of Man” presupposes creating favorable conditions for concentrating on the painting and spending some time viewing it from various angles. A simple frame would the appropriate display format for this picture. The hovering green apple is aimed at generating observers’ interest and stimulating their curiosity by taking advantage from the natural human wish to see objects which are hidden.

The green apple looks so realistic that it may seem to the audience that changing the perspective they would be able to look behind this hindrance and see more. It is preferable not to prevent observers from satisfying their natural curiosity and viewing the painting from diverse perspectives for overcoming the optical illusion and proceeding to the interpretation of the symbolic meaning of the picture.

Though the visitors are expected to spend some time observing the art work and analyzing its major elements, the places for seating are not needed because the majority of the observers would prefer walking so that to look at the picture from different distances and under different angles. Considering the fact that the painting is dated to 1964, it is possible to recreate the original environment of the painting. The target audience of the exhibition includes the painting experts, critiques and amateur art lovers.

The first category would appreciate the balance between lighting the picture well enough to make all the details noticeable and subduing it a bit to maintain the mysterious atmosphere for the exhibition, while the amateurs would be impressed with the optical illusion and the simple author’s idea generating the observers’ interest.

Direct communication about the painting

The means of direct communication about the painting, such as labels, for example, are important for interpreting the artwork in the context of its epoch, style and artist’s heritage.

The art experts are expected to be knowledgeable and their impressions from other Magritte’s paintings can enhance their understanding of the symbolic meaning of “The Son of Man” and aid them in interpreting the author’s ideas implemented in this artwork.

The picture cannot be analyzed separately from the rest of the world’s cultural heritage and the art galleries labels are the silent reminders of the name of the artist, the dates of his life and creation of the painting as well as main achievements and the style of painting.

These means of direct communication provide the useful information without interrupting the observation process and the individual’s stream of consciousness and association line. On the one hand, all the labels of the gallery are expected to meet the standard requirements. On the other hand, the importance of working on the label design and content should not be underestimated because it can be significant for intensifying the impression or clarifying particular moments.

Label to accompany the display

“The Son of Man” is a 1964 painting of the Belgian artist Rene Magritte who is recognized as a surrealist painter. The painting depicts a man in a contemporary suit standing erect with a floating apple in front of his head which hides all his facial characteristics. The title of the painting which coincides with a biblical term which is referred to Christ and the apple as a forbidden fruit and the symbol of fall of humanity imply allusions of Christian motives in the painting.

Some experts recognize the painting as Magritte’s self-portrait but a floating apple which hides all his facial characteristics complicates the identification and only gives rise to debates. The man’s clothing suggests that the setting of the picture is in modern times.

Taking into account the biblical motives and the symbol, it creates the juxtaposition which is characteristic of Magritte’s pictorial style. The floating apple confuses observers and generates their interest, raising the question why the apple is floating and obstructing the man’s face instead of being placed in his hands or any other fragment of the painting.

Though the setting of the picture is recognizable and the use of the bowler hat is a traditional indicator of English culture, the purposeful obstruction of man’s facial characteristics makes his identification impossible. Considering both recognizable indicators and hindrances for recognition in the pictorial whole along with the biblical motives in it, it can be concluded that the man in the picture represents all contemporary men.


Considering the philosophical meaning of the painting “The Son of Man” by Rene Magritte, it should be noted that the interpretation of the signs and artist’s ideas requires concentration of observers’ attention as well as creating favorable conditions for intensifying the produced effect.


Stokstad, Marilyn. Art, a Brief History. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. 1999. Print.

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