lay figure

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Louis-François Roubiliac (c. 1705—1762) sculptor

Giorgio Vasari (1511—1574) Italian painter, architect, and biographer

Filarete (c. 1400—1469)

Sir John Everett Millais (1829—1896) painter

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A doll-like model of the human figure, jointed so that it can be given all kinds of poses, used by an artist in place of a live model. It may be anything from a few inches in height to life-size (a fine example, about half life-size, made c.1750 by the sculptor Roubiliac, is in the Museum of London). Vasari claimed that Fra Bartolommeo was the first artist to use a lay figure, but a description of one occurs earlier in Filarete's Treatise on Architecture (1461–4). This was said to be life-size, but early lay figures were evidently mostly small and in English were originally called ‘manikins’ (the phrase ‘layman of wood’ is recorded in 1688 and the first known use of the term ‘lay figure’ dates from 1795). By the 18th century, however, some portrait painters were using life-size figures, completely jointed and covered with fabric. They could arrange the costumes on the figure and work on that part of the picture in the absence of the sitter. When Millais painted The Black Brunswicker (1859–60, Lady Lever AG, Port Sunlight), the models for the two lovers—with Victorian propriety—posed separately, embracing a life-size lay figure. More recent artists who have used such life-size figures include Sickert (who owned one that is said previously to have belonged to Hogarth) and Annigoni (who used one when painting his first portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (1954–5).

Subjects: Art.

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