There are all kinds of smiles: the frozen one of a news anchorperson, the leering grin of someone who's drunk too much, the lewd smile of a perpetual flirt, the decorous smile of a suburbanite at a tea party, the open smile of an infant, and the sublime smiles on the death masks of ancient saints, and more. Angus Trumble, who is Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art, has written a fascinating book on the manifold meaning of smiles in many cultures and creative artifacts. He uses illustrative material from 18th and 19th century European paintings, Japanese woodblock prints, sculptures from ancient times, and advertising. He covers the science behind giggles and much more in chapters on decorum, lewdness, desire, mirth, wisdom, deceit, and happiness.
Trumble offers his own take on the Mona Lisa, the single most famous representation of smiling in Western culture, along with suggestions on how to read these facial expressions in art. He notes: "The act of smiling itself is inevitably social and communicative, part of the complex nonverbal language with which our bodies are equipped. A decorous smile, a smile of restraint, is therefore an important ingredient of good manners, just as a lewd grin has to do with the bad. It can be a kind of mask."
We were most impressed with Trumble's comments on the five different types of holy smiles worn by the Buddha in different eras. His chapter "Wisdom" is most instructive and edifying on the deeper meanings of smiles.