Sunday, January 13, 2013

when words are not enough

In my pocket, I found a tiny Babushka doll the size of my thumb. That little doll cradles inside her an even more miniature little figure. 
A set of Babushka dolls is a little community: each person nestled into, sheltered by, supported by another one. 
Each woman her sister's keeper.

On the ceiling of St. Paul's Cathedral, there are the four evangelists chillin' up there (typical), and I noticed St. John.
The angel that was handing him the scroll looked intimidating. He was aggressive and majestic. This was an angel to be reckoned with.
St. John's reaction was telling: he had his hand over his forehead, in a gesture of fright. The story he was being confronted with was one that terrified him.

I saw a series of paintings by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot is a French painter. 
I have never so desired to hug a French painter as I desire to hug Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. 
In four delicate paintings, he captured woodland scenes at different times of day.
In one small panel, he painted a scene of morning that puts all my adjectives to shame. I could try to describe morning as: misty, emerging, silvery, whispery, shadows-delicately-rolled-back-by-gentle-streams-of-sun, but none of those words would evoke the magic of feeling a cool morning mist on your skin, or that blinding moment as the sun rises above the water and sends out shafts of pure morning light, but I would only have to bring you to that picture, and you would feel all that in an instant, just looking at the paint on the canvas.

Artists can so precisely and delicately artists capture the story of a human, outside of time.
In one frozen moment, the artist can describe the holy horror of the story St. John is compelled to tell.
He can capture the beauty of a wood in the weak morning light or waning evening light.
Or, like Adolph Menzel,capture the myriad stories of crowds people in a bustling city garden. From the children playing between the legs of their fathers, to the man who looks concernedly over the heads of the crowd, to the woman who sit on the chairs and gossip together, each of these characters has a story.
The artist records the bit of the story that matters. The bit of the story that they couldn't possibly allow to be forgotten, the word that is in the center of the soul. 

And, two hundred years later, a small British girl walks by and can examine the portraits.
"I see them, but I don't know who they are," she protests to her mother.
Maybe not. But after staring into the brilliant black eyes of Good Queen Bess, maybe she knows a bit more about Elizabeth the First's indomitable will, sparkle, spunk, and spirit than she did before.

A wise person once said that the best portraits are all nude paintings.
Although the subjects may be still be fully clothed, their spirits are laid bare.


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