Tuesday, August 05, 2014

On Beholding a Digital Version of Giorgione's "The Tempest"

"…the beauty which agree,
In many a nameless being we retrace,
Whose course and home we knew not, nor shall know,
Like the lost Pleiad seen no more below."

- Byron, "Beppo"

In this representation of a painting, the characters are delineated,
but what they mean, who they are, the arc of the narrative—that
takes some looking. And by looking, I mean: hold still. Breathe. Look,
without forming words, look for alignments and breaks, hold descriptions
back even as they tug at you, ignore them as they pull at your sleeve.

Now, begin: There is a figure, female, beautiful, naked and adorned
and nursing a child. She looks frankly at you, a faint smile in her gaze.

There is a youth, looking off past the frame of the painting (or wherever
the image was cropped). There I am, or there you are, at another vertex.

And that vertex places you, me, us, right where the stream flows, at the
disjunction made by the rushing water and its low banks, outside the frame
and still in the picture, invited in by the gaze of the character and her smile.

It's different than words, this sort of storytelling—space can be time, and
the gap between the youth and the woman and me, or you, can be passing
time. The baby could be the youth. The viewer could be anyone, but now
the viewer is here at a keyboard, calling the moving water to mind, calling
the storm painted in the distance a source of the rush and cut of the stream.

The bones of the painting, the alignments, provide space for the connective
tissue of story, and the image becomes an object of contemplation. There:
I've broken the silence and all that's clear is words spill out of me, nothing yet
revealed about the painting except myself. That may be enough, though.

It's in the seemingly empty spaces between, where the story waits patiently
for you and me, the necessary characters at the vertex outside the frame.


Dale said...

This is wonderful. The strangeness of this painting is not so much in the situation, which might be accounted for in various ways, but in that welcoming smile -- which says that this is *not* a strange situation, but one that we know and are welcome in. Even, maybe, a situation we created ourselves: is this our mistress, our bastard son,our wife, our best friend? Her look says: see, here we are still, just as you left us!

am said...

After getting quiet and looking wordlessly at this painting for quite some time (I've come back to this post over and over again), the landscape and stormy sky and the baby and the bird on the roof in the distance are a bigger part of the story I begin to tell myself than the man and the woman. There is something about the man and the woman that strikes me as an afterthought by the artist, almost as if they were collaged in at the last minute with Photoshop.

Mostly, my heart goes out to the baby. In one of my first thought associations, the baby was Moses. Not sure where that came from. Although the mother doesn't seem to be securely seated on solid ground, her gaze tells me that she is on solid ground in some other way.

I don't think the young man can see her or the tempest or us, but the mother can see us. I volunteered to help with babies in a daycare this year. Babies manage to say everything without words. On thing for sure, this dear baby isn't going to be going to day care!

Thanks for these moments for storytelling.

Thanks, too, for including me on your links. My current address is: