Sunday, July 3, 2011

Picture at an Exhibition

I went to the Ashmolean with a friend yesterday to see the Macedonian exhibit (was largely underwhelmed). Afterwards we strolled through a few Western art displays. Though I love museums, I find them tiring. I feel like I must see everything, but one can only ever run through and experience the whole effect (the museum as a collage of people and places and periods) or focus on several pieces but try to just stay in front of them and see them. I am bad at practicing the latter approach, and tend towards the former. But yesterday J and I took our time and it was not unrewarding if only for this piece.

This is Barna de Siena’s mid 14th century Crucifixion and Lamentation which used to be a part of a diptych. The accompanying plaque said that it is rare to find the crucifixion and lamentation as a part of a single scene, and this makes it a powerful devotional image.

I am quite unresponsive to the Crucifixion (I find the blood rather comic in it’s energetic arching), and Mary Magdalene is a bit like a Wild Thing in the right-hand corner. But I found the depiction of the lamentation of Mary over Christ moving: their cheeks pressed together with some intensity (Christ’s dead, pallid, and unresponsive), Mary’s open eyes staring with grieving accusation at Christ’s closed lids.

She looks like she’s trying to consume him, to restore him to life by the pressure of her arms. There is an intimacy to this grief that reminds me of a wounded sorrow which I think is felt commonly in moments of betrayal.

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