Ha, Ha ! You caught me being generous to a guy I admire for his painting skills.
Let me preface this comment by saying that I don’t want to get into some tit-for-tat argument by graduate school drop-outs on the necessity for art to be either THIS WAY or THAT. I’m just going to put this thought out there.
I’m gonna guess that this first photo is a poor reproduction of the “four white dots” in the painting. The painting shows up better in the photo on the jssgallery.org website.
An attempt to make the “portrait a picture” by the addition of the globe behind and the Saint Martin and the Beggar above in the composition is evidence of his willingness to move objects and people around for the sake of a better arrangement.
Since the black robes were a necessary inclusion and as the figures are likely to approach life size there is the requirement of integrating large dark areas.
These men are teaching doctors whose careers made significant advances to the concept of modern medical practice. How better to portray this advance than to describe upright figures robed in black that find themselves anchored to the dark yet projected forward of it —the figures thus emerging from this dense atmosphere into light. Their occupations moved by warm currents stirred in the parquet floor, the forward projection of a desk, the draped code of academic regalia and the rising flow of that engulfing background. An enormous globe . . . humanity, if you will . . . pressing outward from the central figures rounding to them and forming a bridge to connect the one with the other, their arabesque of hands claiming shared knowledge in the texts laid about on the table.
Quotes from contemporaries who actually saw the painting:
"A marvellously fine composition... The dextrous way in which the artist has used the hoods, the books, and the globe to relieve the gloom of gowns and backgrounds is beyond praise."
"Touches on absolute mastery within the limits of its aims. ...The masses of black are strong and elastic in structure, and each brush stroke is directly descriptive of surface character. The background is nobly handled, and the execution throughout of a power and insight that belie the rather photographic arrangement of the subject."