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How to Read Italian Renaissance Painting

From: Prairie Schooner
Volume 86, Number 1, Spring 2012
pp. 32-34 | 10.1353/psg.2012.0016

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

How to Read Italian Renaissance Painting

Pay attention to cryptic grapes, wanderingaimless skulls, a robed apostle's vortex

of red. Pay attention to luminous gloom,to the attention paid to each fold, each leaf,

each angel's blue-tipped wing, to every lookof beseeching dismay. Notice uneasy clouds

to the right, uncertain urns to the left. Noticetheatrical expressions, God diving in to shatter [End Page 32]

the silence in Mary's room. Notice shudderseverywhere. Take these to mean the master

is a master of worry. When they say human figure,think naked man, sometimes with pubic hair,

sometimes not—flawlessness like Jack LaLannewith a scruffy beard. When they say reclining nude,

think woman with a body like soft Dresden hills,like challah. The angels always carry large, spiral

candles—the kind burned at funerals—graspedwith two hands (Christ's body confirms this),

spiraling akin to spiraling bodies. Also, bare feet.Also, exalted pathos. Also, everyone's either

pointing, shadowed, or ineffably smiling. Did I sayconfidence? Did I say harmony? Did I say a quilted

sleeve? When the women aren't reclining,they're a bonneted sweetness, a golden serene.

Meanwhile, those cryptic cherubs; meanwhilethose enigmatically fleeing cats. Seeking aid

she turns to us, but we are helpless with ourfragile hands, our dark, roaming eyes. And though

the ship is inscrutable, the finger: yes. Andthough the tension is palpable—in the embrace

of the two pregnant women, in the flourishesof peasant grief—the book is on the bookstand, [End Page 33]

the sfumato is sfumato-ing, the lute-r is lute-ing,the baby doesn't tumble from his mother's arms,

the hourglass balances on the stool, does not crash and break.

Martha Silano

Martha Silano's books are What the Truth Tastes Like, Blue Positive, and The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception, chosen by Campbell McGrath as the winner of the 2010 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in Paris Review, Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere.