OBJECT No. 1: Lagneau (active 1590-1625), Middle-aged man with curly hair, 1620s

We look at objects, write about them, talk about them, consume them. They are the centre of our discipline - the focal point and its reason to be. For OBJECT No.1 Dr Rachel Sloan looks at Lagneau’s enigmatic portrait of a middle-aged man.

The man’s eyes are the first thing you notice. Dark, slightly sunken, but with a bright glint, their expression is hard to read; the longer you look at it, the more it shifts from weariness to resignation to curiosity to suspicion. The intensity of his gaze pierces you as it must have pierced the artist who recorded his likeness. His face is heavily lined and weather-beaten, each wrinkle, each fold of flesh, each grizzled curl and eyelash rendered in meticulous detail in a subtle blend of black and red chalks that vividly evokes the tone and texture of hair and skin. His clothing is plain but neat and sober – not a nobleman, then, but perhaps a steward or another high-ranking servant in a wealthy household. In any case, a rather unusual subject for a portrait in 1620s France, when portraiture was primarily the domain of the elite. Who was he, and who was the artist who chose to depict him?