Pictures on my wall…(Part I)

Art fascinates me and I enjoy studying it recreationally.  I try to draw every now and then when the urge takes me, but I have no talent for it.  I love to watch capable artists work, though.  Sometimes I stop and stare at the street artists around Times Square and Central Park who sketch portraits for a fee, or the art students practicing in the Met.  Like playing music, drawing looks almost magical to me because I can’t do it.  My father had the knack, though, and as a child I loved to see his doodles. 
  Anyway, I keep a lot of art around.  I like to fill up my walls with it.  I pick it up here and there—from art books, thrift stores, sidewalk vendors.  Sometimes I buy prints from the internet or the museums I’ve visited.  I joke that my apartment is full of worthless reproductions of priceless works of art.  My collection changes slowly as I discover new artists and movements that I like. 
  There are a few pictures that I’ve had for many years, however.  They are perennial favorites.  I keep them on my bedroom wall, in close proximity to one another.  I see them all the time and I never get tired of looking at them. 
   I mentioned this to my psychologist, who asked if she could see them.  I wrapped them up in towels and brought them in a bag.  She asked me what I liked about them, and then pointed out a glaring similarity in all of the pictures that I had been bafflingly blind to.  I mean, I’m looking at these things all the time, and it never occurred to me that they all have the same qualities! 
    Let’s take a look.  I almost never allow other people into my bedroom, but I will share this with you:
  First, we have Sybille of Cleves as a Bride, painted by Lucas The Elder Cranach, 1526:
 I love the vivid colors of her hair and her dress.  The garland on her head and the feather attached to it are amazingly delicate.  The way he captured the volume and structure of her garment and the texture of the fabric…the depth and wave of her hair.  I like the informal way she holds her hands together in front of her body.  Her head is tilted down slightly, and her gaze is directed not at the painter (viewer), but at someone or something out of the frame, off to the side…or perhaps she is just thinking about something, alone with her thoughts.  She seems to have a slight smile on her face.  She is poised, composed, contained.  She looks sly to me—she looks like she has a secret.  Like she knows something that she isn’t meant to know.  Something that gives her understanding, or power.   
            Next, Lady with an Ermine, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, 1498-1490:
            I had the pleasure of seeing this painting in person when it was appearing briefly at the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco.  What fascinates me here is the duality between the two characters, the woman and the ermine. The woman is calm, serene, composed.  Her shoulders are relaxed; there is no tension in her body or her face.  In contrast, the ermine is muscular and coiled, alert. See the claws on its paws, the suggestion of a snarl.  Its gaze is intense.  It looks ferocious.  It looks like it would bite the hell out of you.  And yet, the woman holds it as gently and casually as if it was a docile, harmless pet.  Her touch is almost a caress.  I’m fascinated by her hand, which seems exaggeratedly long but also perfectly proportioned and lifelike.  The animal and the woman are both looking in the same direction; they are both raising one of their hands.  Her pale skin is almost as light as the ermine’s fur. 
    What is the symbolism here?  The woman is thought to be Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of a wealthy and powerful man.  Perhaps the ermine is a metaphor for him, and the power and protection he represents.  She has seduced this fearful creature. 
     I am more inclined to believe that the ermine is, in fact, the woman.  That the ermine represents a hidden side of her personality—what lays behind her smooth and languid beauty. In my opinion, Leonardo, the artist, understood this of her very well.   You would not cross this woman.  Not if you knew what was good for you.

      It was pointed out to me: the woman looks like she could be my sister.  In fact, she could almost be my twin.  

      And yet, I never would have realized it in a million years.

One thought on “Pictures on my wall…(Part I)”

  1. I’d guess that the common thread is that they look similar to you, but then again, I’ve read descriptions and seen pictures of pieces of you.

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