Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Hans Memling, Tommaso di Folco Portinari,  Maria Portinari
"Probably" from 1470 [as wedding portraits] Oil on Wood, Two panels, each (painted surface) 16 5/8" x 12 1/2". Originally the wings of a triptych.

They hang about 2 feet from one another at the Met. If they are wedding portraits, as people assume, then he's 38 give or take, and she's about 14. They're wonderful paintings but their relation to one another seems slightly comic. He looks blank, or blankly devout, and she looks annoyed. She's a teenager. The curve of her mouth makes me laugh. But that leaves the wrong implication. The richness of the paintings isn't separate from their function as portraits. They're not paintings of poses, stock images beautifully made, but paintings of people posing as stock images recorded as they are, as actors. The Met refers to the two panels as "among the masterpieces of Northern Renaissance art" and that has much to do with the tension they manifest between the political and moral, the exterior and interior, the requirements of ideal form and honest, direct, description of life lived, of experience.

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