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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

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Pay attention to cryptic grapes, wandering
aimless 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 look
of beseeching dismay. Notice uneasy clouds

to the right, uncertain urns to the left. Notice
theatrical expressions, God diving in to shatter

the silence in Mary's room. Notice shudders
everywhere. 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 LaLanne
with 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—grasped
with 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 say
confidence? 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; meanwhile
those enigmatically fleeing cats. Seeking aid

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

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

of the two pregnant women, in the flourishes
of peasant grief—the book is on the bookstand,

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.

Copyright © 2012 University of Nebraska Press
Project MUSE® - View Citation
Martha Silano. "How to Read Italian Renaissance Painting." Prairie Schooner 86.1 (2012): 32-34. Project MUSE. Web. 27 Jan. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Silano, M.(2012). How to Read Italian Renaissance Painting. Prairie Schooner 86(1), 32-34. University of Nebraska Press. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from Project MUSE database.
Martha Silano. "How to Read Italian Renaissance Painting." Prairie Schooner 86, no. 1 (2012): 32-34. http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed January 27, 2013).
T1 - How to Read Italian Renaissance Painting
A1 - Martha Silano
JF - Prairie Schooner
VL - 86
IS - 1
SP - 32
EP - 34
PY - 2012
PB - University of Nebraska Press
SN - 1542-426X
UR - http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/prairie_schooner/v086/86.1.silano.html
N1 - Volume 86, Number 1, Spring 2012
ER -


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