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August 28, 2011


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Stunning post. I kept asking myself why the two pictures don't, as it were, "join up" when separated. Gradually it dawned on me that it's all in the light. There is precious little of it in the combined image--but a fair amount in the top portion. The light diminishes as we go top to bottom. Your linking this with experience as the ONLY source of knowledge is a very nice intensification of the experience.

Thanks, Arsen! Just imagine how everything could change yet once again when the entire other half of what was a triptych is found... I was entranced by the fine line that seemed to separate the courtesan from the wives too... and that bored look in their eyes. I mean, it's hard to say really, isn't it?

Ah, the bored look. I saw that too, anticipated something like your reaction, and (alas, I'm novelist of the future for whom time is very fluid) it occurred to me that the ladies in question were, ah, watching TV--but Carpacio, who, of course, like me, was fully aware of the fact, censored himself a little to keep the painting true to his era...

I guess I should have said a dipthych since the two paintings (hunting and ladies) were fitting together.... so whatever the ladies are looking at must be whatever is painted on that missing painting-- a huge flatscreen TV??? Perhaps... but it is interesting that one of the main reasons art historians considered these "ladies" to be courtesans was the look of intense ennui on their faces. You know, I am not sure I have seen anything quite like it. You know I almost never watch TV so I have a low tolerance for the sound of it... but I am going to start looking at people watching TV to see if that is the look they get. Living in Japan for so long, my mom says I have developed a "poker face"-- sometimes I wonder if I don't have a permenently pained expression on my face instead?? :)
just kidding.

Arsen, I forgot to mention the panels-- after being separated-- had been cut and especially Ladies re-painted over so they don't "line up" perfectly now...

Thanks for that last, Peony. Clarifies things. Now as for the look on those faces, based on my observation that's exactly the look people have when they stare at certain programs on the screen -- an odd sort of involuntary fascination, yet with something oddly held back. The eyes watch -- but the soul seems to disapprove.

Just the fact that this Carpaccio may have been a tryptich/ panel/ painted on a window that could be thrown open to VIEW: to the opening of another day. To breathing . To begin work again. A chance to open the window & look out onto a scene in Venice real--grand city of arriving & departing. City of splendor. City of Art & Craft & craftiness & secrets & materials & music. City of hammered gold sndwiched between slices of Venetian glass. City of sulfur, vermillion, cinnabar. City as soul. connected, related, separated, darkened, weary, murky.
In Roman tradition, I think of the Penates--the household gods, the gods of the cups & cupboards & alcoves. Like a painted wooden window cover, I hear wooden cupboard doors being thrown open for air & for light. Earth, Air, Fire, Water. All things, Beings. & we/ Through & Through want to be called into the dance. To be mixed, to be related, to have our name called, announced in the family of things.

It is really wonderful to imagine this window on Venice to have really been a window shutter so that when the ladies opened the window all of Venice spread out beneath them.. La Serenissima.

I do not think realism kills. Not at all. I love these beautiful "slices of life"..so, not paradise and not expressonism. This is neither the View from a Minaret nor that of a Chinese landscape . The Venetians were doing something different. Something quite amazing that I am not sure I would have really been able to grasp from where I sit today had I not read, My Name is Red.

Ruskin called Venetian Ladies "the best picture in the world," and it really is a fabulous painting. But that incredibly souless look of boredom on their faces disturbs... so that I almost have to look away from the painting. I was interested by how fine a line there must be perhaps between a courtesan and a wife so quick did art historians move from one to the other in their analysis. Because like you said, the doves of Athena and the white handkerchiefs all point to marital piety, wifely virtue etc. This probably was a painting done on a cupboard as part of a new bride's dowry... And in my post above, under the influence of a job I was negotiating for to translate a paper on Neo-Confucian scholar Wang Yangming, Wang's famous "unity of knowledge and action" was on my mind so I offered up the thought that basically there is no way to know anything unless you are doing it- (and if you aren't doing it, there is no real way to know.) Now, though, I want to backtrack and just say that here too it is a matter of culture. Looking at this gallery of Carpaccio ladies I see that they all look empty somehow--expressionless. But, it's kind of like looking at an old photograph from Japan or anywhere where people did not smile but looked very very seriously straight at the camera. Like that. It doesn't mean anything other than that is probably how a person affected to look when gettng their painting done in that time and place? Like a puzzle... I would love to see someday what was the content on the missing side-- what they were looking at....

When I said 'literalism kills' (not realism kills), I meant it as more of a psychological quality: that here we have all these beautifully made things--the boats, the bows, the clothing, the architecture, & surrounded by a winged assortment of animals, & dogs ['man's best friend']. A heaven almost, but where has all the mirth gone? The young women in potentia, the child. Why do these people not radiate more 'heaven' in the midst of all these paradisical things?

This Is so much a human condition. Ruskin in his own words reflects a little of what I mean by the mirth being not present. "Imagination----- sees too far, too darkly, too solemnly, too earnestly. There is something in the heart of everything, that those who have so pierced and seen the melancholy deeps of things, are filled with intense passion and gentleness of sympathy." Looking deeply will lead always back to the 'metropolis of the soul's dominion.' These panels seem perhaps beautiful pictures of a soul condition, a glimpse from the dominion of soul.

...making some thing from no thing....

You say that these were 'probably a painting done on a cupboard as part of a new bride's dowry'. DOWRY CUPBOARDS.... I have this image of the Series of Paintings in the Splendor Solis as 'Dowry Cupboards', each a little cupboard/ alcove/ a contempletive image in performing the major work of alchemy. The end of the process, the end of the work was to be the Connunctio. The philosopher's gold was to bring together the masculine and the feminine inside one's own Being. Yes, the process is projected as pictures of the outer world, but for each practitioner/ each worker in the alchemical process, it was the interior gold. SO: I love the idea that the Solis paintings ---for man or woman---any practitioner---would be like a series of dowry cupboards. Paintings of a process in the major work.

One of the beautiful things about the final painting in the Solis---is that 'life is very ordinary'. People are working, playing, the fields, the house, the land seems to have simply the mirth/beauty of an ordinary day. But the work has been done. Something has changed.

Another thought on calling the doves 'Aphrodite's brids', rather than my using the name Venus...was for the feeling quality again. Aphrodite was the goddess of the beauty of the moment, the flowering, the splendor of honoring life in bloom at the moment. She was the one who would cast goldenness to every venture. You gave honor at her shrine before setting sail on anything great . Carpaccio's doves look 'at home on the ledge'----but perhaps they are brooding. Perhaps they have some egg to lay...some potential that one could guess at.

Sterling Price
I was fascinated by this. Last time I was at the Getty there
was a Man Ray exhibit and it wasn't as interesting as this.

Hi Sterling, have you ever heard of Joseph Alsop's book the Rare Art Traditions (History of Art Collecting?) It is the most interesting (but eccentric) book about the changing tastes in art collecting. And, he has a wonderful chapter on the... phenomenon of "nobody going to the Getty to see the art" (since the collection is based on art that is less fashionable nowadays--compared to Asian art or impressionism etc). So, I think until
very recently I only saw the Man Ray exhibit too when I went over there! But the collection is truly spectacular--it just took me a really long time to be able to appreciate it... I especially love the Renaissance paintings --all the natural pigments are so fine and you feel like you are inside a jewelry box (azurite, ultramarine, vermilion, lead white, and all that gold)..

Samuel Peralta I loved this article! It was like following an artistic mystery through the ages, and experienceing the solution - and the resulting new questions

Bucky Sheftall
‎>The most fabulous lagoon in the world, during the Renaissance it must have been jam-packed with fish and mussels and clams and birds

Considering what the lion's share of the nutrient source of all these teeming mollusks probably was, I as......sume the Venetians either: a) did
not eat their shellfish raw; or b) had extremely hardy constitutions...

Speaking of Quattrocentro mollusks, didn't Henry V die from eating Seine estuary mussels durign one of his French castle town sieges?

Bucky Sheftall p.s. Do you reckon 15cent troubadours had their equivalent of the old Ian Dury ditty "Poo Poo In The Prawn"?

Bucky-- you are too funny-- why are you focusing on the
mussels, of all things!??!! Are you hungry? More after Rumpole of the Bailey... this is the best show ever-- you gotta get a hold of it...:)

Bucky Sheftall
It's more a PTSD response, I think, whenever I see or hear mention
of mollusks dwelling in water bordered by heavy human habitation. (to wit,
raw Japanese oysters have hospitalized me three times, the last time -- '93,
when I finall...y gave up on them -- nearly fatally).

E.coli: It's all fun and games until someone gets dysentery...See More

Earl Hartman
Sometimes I'm glad I keep kosher. Never have to worry about Death by Shellfish.

Bucky Sheftall
Not for the faint-hearted (or the delicate of GI tract)

On the theme of "women waiting," my Facebook friend Deborah brought to my attention the New England Widow's Walks and looking at them, they are indeed reminsicent of the Venetian verandahs where women would sit and look out, waiting. Except the widow's walks seemed to have been designed for pacing and looking out. Some women waiting for years and years...

Peony, your Two Venetian Ladies made me think of equivalant emotions expressed through different media. Don't know how many "boudoir laments" I've translated over the years, but three by Li Bai come to mind at once:

Autumn Wind Lyric by Li Bai

Autumn wind light
Full moon bright,
Fallen leaves pile up, then scatter,
Jackdaws settle down, wake up, chatter.
Who can say when we'll be close
and meet once again?
At times like this, on nights like this,
I can't bear the pain.

Inside my lovesick room
You can feel the lovesick gloom
Endless longing, endless memories,
Even shorter bouts of longing seem never to cease.
Had I known how things like this can trip up the heart
I never would have let it start,
Never let it start!

秋風詞 李白


Lament on the Jade Staircase
Li Bai
Clear dew jells on the jade staircase,
seeps into silk stockings as the night grows long.
She steps back, lowers crystal beaded blinds
and gazes through them at the autumn moon.

玉階怨 李白


Longing in Spring —Li Bai

Up north, new grass grows like threads of jade,
Down here, mulberries bend green limbs;
By the time you think of returning home,
My heart will long since have broken.
"I hardly know you, spring breeze," I said,
"Why part the silk curtains of my bed?"



Considering what the lion's share of the nutrient source of all these teeming mollusks probably was.....

Chinese have traditionally used this substance as fertilizer and to feed wine and carp, and yes, they do cook almost everything.

Hi John,

So, have you ever eaten raw oysters? They are absolutely delicious but I guess Bucky almost kicked the bucket thanks to them, huh? Did you notice my message to you on the Carthage post? It was delayed by summer vacation that won't end..If you have an iPod, I am listening (on my walks) to Patrick Hunt's Stanford Uni lectures on hannibal.... hours and hours of it and this is my 2nd listening. He wrote a fascinating book (which I have only heard him tell the story of on these lectures) about tracing Hannibals trip through te alps...recommended! Hunt is pretty interesting.

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