Renaissance Art

the happy couple

(Portraits of Angelo and Maddalena Strozzi Doni by Raphael c. 1506)

Maddalena’s eyes are flat, fishy, and a bit vacant. She fixes them with a trace of smug condescension on the distance. Odious man. Why doesn’t he paint her beautifully, the way her mother was done? Didn’t she make that clear? The dress is stiff, snug, and heavy. The thin muslin drape around her shoulders sticks a little with sweat. She watches his hands move the paintbrush minutely around in the paint. Every second passes more thickly and slowly than the first. Dull painter abominably dull dull dull dull and hot what an odious man. She settles into bovine resignation.

Angelo reclines in skeptical composure. Issues of business cloud his features mildly but are easily collected and contained. He is a man of authority. He is soft spoken and he carries the weight of his authority with his eyes. They are expressive and calculating, apt to cast withering looks of disapproval. He glances coolly at the painter, then down to his pale, uncalloused, blue veined hands--twists a ring so to let it catch more of the light. He is a practical man. He muses mildly on his flatly fish-eyed large dowried wife.

what a nice girl

(Portrait of a Young Woman by Antonio Del Pollaiuolo, 1467-70)

She had always been complemented on her beautiful posture. Now she took particular pride in it—arching an eyebrow, tilting up her chin. There. Pollauiolo was satisfied. She must sit in this way for at least another hour. Best to find that spot on the molding where she always latched her eyes. It was a crack below which dribbled a little water stain onto an otherwise perfectly papered wall. On this crack--and upon the faults and irregularities of other inanimate objects she laid the same cool judgment she dispensed on the faults and irregularities of her companions.

one of my favorite paintings?

(Fra Angelico Annunciation and Scenes from the Life of the Virgin c. 1432-34)

I came across this painting while flipping through the textbook. I remember vaguely discussing it in my high school art history class. (I loved that class but my retention rate was not helped by 1)the fact that my friend and I occupied the two armchairs in the room 2)the fact that lunch directly preceded the class 3)dim lights) Fra Angelico is, however, one of my favorite artists. His figures are somewhat stylized and at the same time so delicately and intricately beautiful. In this painting the Angel approaches Mary beneath some kind of pillared awning or porch. The angel steps toward Mary, one hand pointing to her and the other with a finger raised to his lips in assurance. He hunches slightly so that his face he is at her direct eye level. I love the golden words that come from his mouth to the virgin, passing behind the column that separates them. They flow out like the feathery light that radiates from the rest of his body. There doesn’t seem to be much need for Gabriel’s careful approach because although Mary’s hands are drawn across her chest in surprise her face is smoothly tranquil and serene. The book on her lap is precariously balanced—perhaps she has drawn back quickly and this is the moment before the book will slide to the ground if she doesn’t catch it. A halo like a stamped golden platter rings her head and is matched by that of the angel. Above her head is another smaller golden ring—this time the light emanating from a small dove, likely the spirit given to her by God. She sits upon what seems to be some kind of ornately tiled bench, also in gold with circular patterns. Her blue robe flows down to a small rug on the marble ground, the corner of which is turned up—perhaps another signal of agitation. An open door beyond this affords the viewer a glimpse of a mostly bare room, in which is most clearly visible a long red curtain, part of which is pulled back. Perhaps this is Mary’s bed or a reference to the curtain that will be torn in the temple at her son’s death.

This is strange but many of Fra Angelico’s paintings remind me of Polly Pockets I used to own (the old school kind, not the new Barbie-fied big ones). The figures are so doll-like and their features so delicate they I can’t help but imagine they are very small.