Monday, August 30, 2010

Are you real, Mona Lisa?

It lives. It breathes. I know the intensity of these words.

A troupe of 300 Japanese tourists, all taking individual photos of themselves in front of the glass enclosure, finally left for the next gallery, offering only a moment to fight my way to the rail.

I’d seen photographs, of course; we all have. But, now, the photographs seem to represent some other work. This is no eyebrow-deficient, small-mouthed, jaundiced lady on a muddy canvas who dolefully reminds me of Morticia Adams’ homely sister. This is a gorgeous, vibrant, three-dimensional, human creature, searching my eyes across time and space, whispering her secret joys in my heart. I could not breathe within her gaze. My God.

This is the indescribable power of portraiture, of capturing faces to exude the subject’s core at that moment, grasping recognition in my own. It is a soul released of vulnerability, speaking deepest truths it could not utter in life.

I still tremble when I think back to that moment in the Louvre.

I commissioned an artist I admire to paint a portrait of my recently deceased mother, at my father’s request. He sent emails with attached jpegs, I sent back guidance on how to make the smile more like Mom’s or to better describe the shape of her chin. When I saw the photo of the best version, I was pleased. Today I saw the painting. My God.

The artist said, “In the photo you gave me, I saw a young, happy, woman, typical of her era, seeing her future of possibilities.”

That is exactly what he painted, but both his words and mine fail to describe her truth. Only oil and canvas can.

I cannot breathe within her gaze. I cannot stop looking.

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