Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Unworldliness

Fra Angelico (1395-1455) Annunciatory angel
Here's an account of the "sublime exhibition"
where I encountered this angel in 2005.
Rose at five to roust a boy for a faraway wrestling tournament and dry the singlet (ah! forgot.) The world is still deep-blue-and-night-on-snow. I've had a number of reasons of late to remember how strange it is to be an artist of any kind--how odd my concerns look in a worldly light. And yet I am so blessed and lucky to live when I do, in a time when I didn't die in childbirth (but would have, in an earlier age), a time when a woman is allowed to twist words into shapes and a man is allowed to cook her dinner.

In front of me is an image of one of Fra Angelico's angels, the reality encountered and the print bought at an extraordinary show at the Met some years ago. The shape between halo and wing is full of grace and beauty, and the flushed, alien skin and rich hair are still alive with an unworldly light. The wings are eyed like a peacock's, seeing everything. How wonderful that half a millenium later, this angel is still speaking, and I am alive and harking to its lovely gestures.

In his turbulent age, Fra Angelico found again and again the peace to make such radiant paintings, ballasted with what Makoto Fujimura calls "angelic weight." In our time, so rife with visual noise and loud, time-frittering leisure and the world's terrible alarms, that peace is an island of hush that still exists if we can only sit still and wait--as I wait now on words.

10 comments:

  1. Re this excerpt,"The shape between halo and wing is full of grace and beauty, and the flushed, alien skin and rich hair are still alive with an unworldly light. The wings are eyed like a peacock's, seeing everything": One of the magical qualities of art is it makes us so afresh and more deeply things we have a bit too grown used to--or have never REALLY looked at, tho' we've seen it many times. This is what your description of this painted angel did for me this morning, Marly. Thanks!

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  2. Oh, good!

    Mary,

    Ashley C. left me a lovely fb comment, by which I mean that it has stuck with me and left an image in my mind that I like: "Beautiful Marly, and makes me think of the Friary of San Marco. I love the sparse white cells with a Fra Angelico painting from the life of Christ floating on the wall of each cell."

    Something about that is really appealing--the white honeycomb of cells, each with a little treasure floating inside. Always pleasant to hear what painters have to say!

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  3. Sorry I could not see the NYT article w/o subscription but instead I went on a memory trip! First a browse online at the San Marco convent in Florence. We had a fantastic holiday in Italy in 1993 and Florence was the highlight with almost a week there - so much wonderful art and architecture that I'd only seen in books and slide shows in art history classes! Fra Angelico and his angels, David, the Uffici.... ah! I vant to go back.

    Yes, we are so much more fortunate as women compared to the past (though not everywhere, sady) and you are lucky your husband cooks! Sounds like you are feeling better after that long flu bout?

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  4. Oh, that sounds lovely! I would like to go. Memory trips are good, especially if you have a good memory...

    I am much, much better and going about life normally. Evidently for some people the whole thing lasts 4-5 weeks before one is entirely well.

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  5. Thanks, Ms. Hannah! Greetings--

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  6. Lovely meditation Marly. Love the textures of the angel, as well as the shapes and colours.

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  7. Yes, he must have seemed unusual for texture--the handling of the gold, particularly. It's not a simple flat surface on background or halo. And love the way the feathers are barely coaxed out of the gold...

    Thanks for coming by, Lucy!

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  8. Rather wobbly hands, but this is still stunning.
    The photo is not doing this justice, but I am drawn to the image with a sense of wonder.

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  9. The show at the Met was one of the most wondrous exhibits I've ever seen--just one glorious painting after another. He's on that selvage between medieval and "modern," and to me that only gives an additional charm--time and timelessness braided together.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.