Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Portrait of Battista Fiera -- Lorenzo Costa

See the picture.

Well he’s not going pay in cash or anything useful. He’s broke -- Elena’s sucked him dry. Sucked him dry and brought down the greater pox on him. He would have done better to have spent it on getting her a consultation with me. But she’d never have agreed. She goes to that old witch Dolores. Most of the ladies do. Dolores is good at childbirth, and she knows her herbs, I’ll give her that. But I’m the pox doctor. I’m the one who travelled all that way to study under the physicians of Arabia. And those girls needn’t worry about their secrets escaping (although it’s hard to hide the greater pox -- makes you wince, even thinking about those sores). I am both successful and discreet. Did I not cure... well someone you’ll have heard of who shouldn’t even have had the pox (not that I judge -- we all make mistakes when we are young).

In any case, I’m saying ‘yes’ to the portrait. I will hang it in my waiting room so patients can see who will treat them, who (I hope) they are paying. It will be a good likeness, I think. Those three of Elena that he’ll only show you when he’s had a few... you’d expect her to reach out of the picture and grab his knee. You’d expect to smell her; you’d expect to hear her gown rustle as she undresses.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

A Man Reading -- Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden

See the picture.

‘What does it say? What does it say?’ But he won’t read it aloud.

‘I need time to consider it. Let me be alone, Mother.’

He is so young to know so much, to have to work out such hard language. Why can the monks not tell us: ‘Yes you can go on living in this house’ or ‘No you must move far away from your friends and all who care for you.’

‘Have you read it Ivo? Have you read it?’

He waves his hand at me and turns so I cannot see the paper. He reads a little aloud in Latin. His masters always said his Latin was so weak. ‘Ivo, let’s get Laurent to read it – he’s a real lawyer. He would understand it. He could say if it was ‘yes’ or ‘no’ right away.’

‘Mother, be quiet. I’ve studied three years to do this.’ He turns back to the page and draws together his brows, just as he used to do as a child when he couldn’t understand his lessons.

‘Ivo, let me see.’

‘Mother, you can’t read.’

‘Ivo, I’m sure Laurent…’

‘Mother, please. Go back to your room and let me read this in peace.’

Wicked boy – how can he dismiss me, his own mother, so? How can he?

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Allegory of Love I-IV -- Paolo Veronese

See the pictures: Allegory of Love I; Allegory of Love II; Allegory of Love III; Allegory of Love IV.

When I saw the men struggling across the street with the pictures, my heart sank and I felt the floor swooping up to meet me.

I was on my bed when I came to. The curtains were drawn around the foot and one side. On the other side were Maria fanning my face, and my husband hovering nearby. ‘There, my dear, you’re with us again. It must be the heat, or the excitement, or…’

I turned my face to the pillow so as not to hear the rest.

‘She is overcome, master,’ said Maria. ‘It’s excitement at the gift you have brought her.’

‘Let’s draw back the curtain so she can see. Ready Maria?’

Light flooded on to the bed and I forced myself to look. Surely Ercole wasn’t going to hang such pictures in our chamber… how could he be so cruel?

I took in the four pictures. ‘Where are they to go? There’s no space in here.’

‘On the ceiling in the hall. The men have brought them up here to be safe before they hang them tomorrow. Aren’t they beautiful?’ He caressed the first painting – it shows Ercole wooing me even as I am adoring Paolo. How can he not see?

‘It’s called Allegory of Love. My darling, I am going to make this house a temple to my love for you.’

‘Oh Ercole.’ If he knew, he would cast me aside.

Paolo has painted the story of my marriage. The first picture shows Ercole stealing me from him. How can he be so cruel to me? He knew I had no choice, that Ercole was who I must marry and that I was as a twig in a flooded river.

The second picture has me scorning Ercole – Paolo has even shown Maria. But I never scorned Ercole – I did as I was asked by my family. I left Paolo and allowed Ercole to woo me. I was cold at first, naturally, for it is hard for a lady to overcome her natural modesty. How cruelly Cupid beats Ercole! He might just as well be whipping me.

The third picture shows Ercole coming across me asleep and although spurred on by Cupid, he refuses to take advantage. That’s a lie also. Ercole stole several nights before the wedding. How can Paolo be so wicked? He has even shown the bed curtains of my own room. Ercole will see them and guess that Paolo was there.

The last picture shows the joyful union. We are bound in golden chains by Cupid and blessed by Venus. Ercole’s faithful dog Tray stands by. But if it’s so joyful, why does Venus look so grim? She knows my secret, and soon Ercole will too.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

The Holy Family with Saint John -- Andrea Mantegna

See the picture.

– Look at you – you’re fat as a feast day kid.
– Look at you – you’ve got hair, and what’s with the curl in the middle of your forehead?
– D’you remember that day, though? Your mum and dad took us to that garden place and we got in trouble for picking green oranges and throwing them at each...
– was an orange farm, not a garden, and the farmer came out and yelled at us?
– Oh yeah – and you cried...
– No I didn’t.
– Yes you did. You cried, and your dad had to buy you that ball to make you shut up.
– I remember that ball – I lost it down the well at home.
– Yeah, you cried about that, too.
– I got something in my eye. What were we standing on?
– Broken water tank, I think?
– Dad must’ve asked someone else to take the picture. Mum’s got her eyes shut as usual. She always shuts her eyes when a picture’s being taken.
– She gave us that white stuff to play horses with – probably to make us stop throwing oranges at each other.
– Horses, eh? That’ll be why I’m holding the stick. Shadow and Thunderfoot
– Thunderhoof. Shadow and Thunderhoof, the crime-solving horses. Remember that?
– ‘Come Shadow, I sense criminals have been here.’ Yeah, I remember. I can’t believe we used to pretend to be crime-solving horses. Where do kids get this stuff? What’s dad looking at?
– I bet it’s a bit of dodgy joinery.
– Yeah: ‘Who... What on earth... What sort of... Who would put... a door that heavy on a hinge made of leather?’
– Don’t – that’s what you sound like these days.
– As if!
– You do, you’re a carpentry geek.
– Call me a geek, locust boy. How’s the preaching going, anyway?
– It’s OK. Fewer stones, bigger crowds. You should try it – you’ve got a good voice for it, and the imagination. Crime-solving horses.
– That was not... Shut up.
– But seriously, mate, do you really dream of spending your life making barn doors and piles of shavings?

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

A Man with a Pink -- Andrea Solario

See the picture.

‘What? All off? Broken up? Well really! What about this blessed portrait I’ve paid for… paid for half of. Really, the boy is too bad. Keeps changing his mind like a… like a... How could he? Didn’t even consult his old godfather that’s what I’m here for, but he didn’t say a word. Do you know, I had to find out about the engagement third hand? If it hadn’t been for that gossiping priest I might not have known until I got a wedding invitation.

‘Why’s he broken it off anyway? He always was a changeable creature even when he was tiny. Capricious. His mother fed him goat’s milk you know against my advice. I might add. That’s what goat’s milk does to children. Capriciousness. I should get them to put some goats in the background to remind him of how changeable and stubborn he is.

‘Why did he break it off? His father? His father broke it off? Whatever for? Speak up! Don’t mutter. Really? An innkeeper’s daughter? Why didn’t you say so? Someone should have told me right at the start. Well I suppose we should be thankful.

‘He should have come to his old godfather for advice. I could have told him right from the start.

‘Well, yes, I suppose I am. As paintings go, it's not a bad one. Have you been to see it?

‘I suppose I can ask Master Solario to paint out the pink and… Dash it all, I’m going to leave it and present it to the boy when he really does get engaged.’