Friday, December 16, 2011


(Adoration of the Christ Child and Annunciation to the Shepherds, Bernardino Luini, 1520, New Orleans Museum of Art)

Bernardino Luini.

Now there's an Italian name for you.

Roll that one around on your tongue for a few seconds and see what you think.

I adore this Renaissance master's last name.

"Loo - e - nee."

The pronunciation of his name reminds me of a scrumptious pasta - one that is dripping in warm, silky butter and melted, gooey parmesan.

Luini's sacred paintings are as delicious to the eye as his name is to the tongue.

It is believed that Bernardino worked  directly with Leonardo da Vinci.

As a result of this master/student relationship, many of Bernardino's paintings were originally attributed to Leonardo.

Sydney J. Freedberg once stated:

"Bernardino Luini took as much from Leonardo as his native roots enabled him to comprehend."


I'm thinking that comment was not meant to be a compliment for Bernardino.

No matter.

Bernardino's "Adoration of the Christ Child and Annunciation to the Shepherds" is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful nativity portraits ever painted.

It's real.

It's honest.

It portrays timeless truths.

All pretension is absent from this masterpiece.

Please trust me - this is a refreshing change of pace in the world of art.

At first glance, we find Mary and Joseph gazing tenderly at their new born Son.

They are clearly in the act of providing comfort for their sleeping babe.

Mary's left hand carefully holds the Child's head in a near upright position - swaddling clothes and all.

What is Joseph's doing?

He seems to be sliding something under the holy infant.

A closer look tells us that the dark brown object appears to be woven.

Is it a basket?

Or simply a mat?

Perhaps it is neither of those things.

I don't think it really matters to us, the viewers.

What does matter is this:

The awe struck parents are doing all they can to provide simple comforts for their Child.

They are united in spirit as well as in task as they each do their part in the care of their precious babe.

I love that about this painting!

Is there a parent anywhere who can not relate to Luini's interpretation of this holy scene?

All parents stand in awe of the tiny life they have created together.

Every finger is counted.

Every toe is examined.

Every expectation of a glorious life together is deeply felt within the parents' hearts.

Bernardino masterfully portrays these sacred feelings.

What is happening through the window at the upper portion of the painting?

We glimpse the angel Gabriel announcing the holy birth to the shepherds who are guarding their flocks by night.

And what a night it is!

All  may not be calm in that very moment.

We feel the excitement of the shepherds as we study their outstretched arms and their raised, attentive heads.

But surely all is bright.

The cerulean blue of Luini's night sky adds intense color to the painting.

The gauzy white of Gabriel's ethereal glow acts as a holy halo.

Although the white and woolly sheep are not aware of the event unfolding before their eyes,  their caretakers are.

The shepherds are fully engaged as they listen to Gabriel's message.

Our hearts join with theirs as we experience joy in this sacred message.

Let's return to the foreground of the painting for a moment.

A shepherd appears at the far left side of the painting.

He is carrying a spotless lamb.

One without blemish.

The perfect lamb symbolizes the perfect Savior.

The very Savior who has come into this worn and weary world to redeem humankind.

This Savior will experience every facet of mortal life while He journeys here.

That is as it should be.

For He must fully understand human misery in order to fully save us from it.

He will model sacred behavior for every single one of us.

He will teach us the way back to Him.

He will be our divine Mentor.

The Savior will do all of these things because He loves each of us as only a perfect God can love.

This is love in its most mature form.

This is a love which we can not yet understand.

Still, our deepest hopes thrive in that holy love.


A final thought:

When I saw this painting in the art museum, I longed for Luini's babe to be wrapped snugly in His swaddling clothes.

Those bent, outstretched arms and tiny stiff fingers seemed to be begging for the warmth of a blanket!

"Surely, Mary and Joseph are about to enfold their fragile Child in His swaddling clothes," I thought to myself.

Then I glanced at the wall plate beside Bernardino's painting.

It read:

"The infant is warmed by the breath of the animals who represent the union Jesus would build between the Jews, representing the ox in the painting, and the Gentiles, who are symbolized by the donkey."

The master painter had spoken.

He had already taken care of the babe's need for bodily warmth.

And long before I appeared before his painting with my all-too-human worries.

The Savior of the world does that for us.

He anticipates our every need.

He stands ready to comfort us before we realize we are in need of His comfort!

I am grateful for that knowledge.

As I am grateful for that Holiest of Nights so very long ago.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


(St. Joseph and the Christ Child, Guido Reni, 1638, Houston Museum of Art)

It is true that some historical figures go in and out of favor over time.

Such was the case of the Biblical Joseph -  foster father of the Redeemer of the world.

During the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance period,  Joseph was mostly a forgotten man.

When we examine the doctrinal truths surrounding Joseph's story, this is not difficult to understand.

After all, it was the Virgin Mary who was appointed by God to conceive and bear this holy Child.

It would be primarily Mary who would succor and nurture the infant Jesus and then guide His growth and development over the course of His childhood.

By the late 16th century, pictorial images of Joseph with the Christ Child became increasingly popular.

As did Roman Catholic accounts of Joseph's life written by Teresa of Avila and later, Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

Largely as a result of these written and visual images,  Joseph's role as foster father of Christ was given added prominence.

We have acclaimed Italian painter, Guido Reni, to thank - among others - for the visual rise of Joseph's standing in the Christian world.

In his day, the great Guido was called "divine."

This was an epithet shared only with Renaissance mega-masters Michelangelo and Raphael.

In one way, Guido's life closely paralleled Joseph's.

For a time, Guido became a forgotten figure thanks to influential English art critic, John Ruskin.

In 1847, Ruskin declared that Guido Reni and his contemporary colleagues  possessed "no single virtue, no colour, no drawing, no character, no history, no thought."


I have a thought.

And it's this:

The esteemed John Ruskin must have been using marbles for eyeballs!

What was he thinking if and when he viewed Guido's beautiful masterpiece, "Saint Joseph and the Christ Child"?

Let's take a closer look.

First of all,  I love Guido's tender treatment of the gaze between Joseph and the infant Christ.

To me, the emotional connection between these familial figures is more than apparent.

It speaks of the highest grace and beauty.

It speaks of warmth and devotion.

Although Ruskin stated that Reni's school of painters used "no colour" I see a canvas filled with rich, earthy hues.

Deep chocolate shades of brown and taupe anchor the background.

These hues are echoed in Joseph's robe which is highlighted with just the right touch of gray.

The baby's creamy skin and carrot hued curls add a soft, peachy glow to this masterpiece.

Joseph's white beard and the white swaddling blanket bring added light and life to the hallowed babe's countenance.

Though the father and son are the stars of this painting, it is Joseph's magnificent cloak that deserves our secondary attention.

That gorgeous sienna hued fabric - the brightest color in the painting - softly encircles Joseph and the infant Jesus.

The cloak serves to bond them together in a symbolic sense.

Scriptural accounts tell us that Joseph taught the child Jesus carpentry skills.

The Redeemer worked in that trade before His ministry began in earnest at the age of 30.

Did Joseph teach Jesus everyday life skills as well?

We can surely imagine that he did.

Would not this Child's Heavenly Father want His only begotten Son brought up in an earthly home where spiritual truths were modeled by an attentive, loving father figure?

Finally, we do not want to forget that gently offered apple.

Christ holds it up for Joseph's perusal.

Frequently present in Christian paintings, the apple represents the act of the Fall in the Garden of Eden.

Further, it symbolizes the need for a loving Savior who will unselfishly offer Himself as Redeemer for humankind.


Guido Reni felt inspired to lighten his palette around the year 1630.

Simply put, the artist decided to use a softer touch.

He eliminated or lightened the dark shadows that frequently appeared in his older works.

He cleaned up his compositions by simplifying their outlines.

His brushwork became loose and free flowing.

His lovely pale colors mingled more softly.

As a result of these innovations, Guido's art began to take on a more luminous quality.

"Saint Joseph and the Christ Child" was painted sometime between the years 1638 and 1640.

This masterpiece became the beneficiary of Guido's new thinking and new technique.

That is oh-so-very obvious, isn't it?

It wasn't until the 1950's and 1960's that Guido's reputation as a brilliant painter was rightfully restored.

He is currently considered one of the greatest artists of the Italian Baroque era.

Special appreciation is given to Guido for the ethereal beauty of his soft colors.

But it is the grace and nobility of Guido's human figures that delight the hearts of his viewers today.

His painterly vision ennobles humanity.

It speaks of the divine within us.

The subject of Joseph's affection for the infant Christ held a special place in Guido's heart.

At least two other versions of this subject were painted.

Guido understood that a father's love is necessary.

His Joseph stands as a sentinel bearing witness to the holiness of a father's love.

The babe's calm repose and steady gaze reinforce that sacred witness.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


(Madonna & Child, Pompeo Girolano Batoni, 1742, Galleria Borghese, Rome)

There has always been a special place in my heart for the subject we are looking at today:

The Madonna and Child.

Italian artist, Pompeo Girolamo Batoni,  painted this "Madonna and Child" masterpiece in 1742.

Pompeo was, quite simply, the most successful painter in 18th century Rome.

What happened to bring him to this point of prominence?

Well, it's never just one thing, is it?

It's obvious to any person with normal vision that Pompeo was born with raw talent.

But weather was definitely a factor.

Rain, specifically.

Pompeo was busy drawing sketches of the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome in the spring of 1727.

The rains hit Rome hard in April of that year.

An Italian count happened to drop by seeking shelter under the portico of the palace.

He scoped out Pompeo's sketches and was impressed.

Batoni invited the good count to his studio to view more of his work.

The result?

Pompeo's first commission:

A new painted altarpiece for the chapel of the count's family in San Gregorio Magno al Celio.

Folks flocked to see the painting in the chapel.

They liked what they saw.

And a star was born.

Of course, it didn't hurt that celebrated painter, Anton Mengs, Pompeo's only serious rival, decided to head for Spain in 1761.

Later, Pompeo became a highly regarded portrait painter.

The movers and shakers in British society were especially attracted to his work.

Many of these upper crust VIP's stopped by Pompeo's studio in Rome to sit for their portraits.

Indeed,  records show that  Pompeo painted over 200 portraits of the British elite during his show-stopping career.

American painter, Benjamin West, visited Rome in 1760.

Pompeo's work was the talk of the town.

West said that Italian artists "talked of nothing, looked at nothing but the works of Pompeo Batoni."

And we can see why.

Eventually,  Pompeo bought a sizable house in Rome, which included his studio, exhibition rooms and a drawing academy.

It became the meeting place for Rome's social and intellectual elite.

Master Batoni had it made in the shade.

And then some.

One glance at his "Madonna and Child" tells the tale.

This is an exquisite painting.

It is clean.


Simplistic in design.

It is technically brilliant.

The sublime colors drift hazily against the charcoal backdrop.

And the subject?

It is perhaps the most hallowed in the history of art

We are looking at the world's preeminent model of motherhood, Mary, the mother of Christ.

Eyes lowered, she quietly gazes upon her holy infant.

The virgin's head is turned toward him as his tiny hand cups her chin in his hand.

Mary's left hand gently touches the back of her son in a motherly embrace.

Her right hand barely grasps his swaddling wrap.

And what about the Christ child?

His plump little body is perched on two gold-tasselled pillows.

The babe's head is pointed upward toward his mother.

His eyes are fixed on Mary.

What could be more natural?

Christ depends on his adoring mother for every needful thing.

He looks to her for life itself.

Mary understands.

There is a bond between them that speaks of the highest love.

And the deepest dignity.

Christ cradles a ripe apple in his right hand.


It reminds us of the apple eaten in the Garden of Eden.

That bitten apple would someday require a sacrifice of unthinkable magnitude.

Only a perfect God could offer such a sacrifice to the world.

The infant Christ, holding the fully ripened apple,  is the appointed one.

The Anointed One.

But the time is not yet.

There is a season for all things.

Now is the season for blossoming growth.

A season of learning......



and childhood joys.

Mary will be with her precious son every step of the way.

This is a mother who knows all too well that she must live in the moment.

She will stand by His side with the kind of devotion that only a mother can give.

At the end of His days, she will stand with Him until His work is finished.

Because that is what a mother does.

And what does a divine Son do?

He asks a beloved friend to look after His anguished mother in His absence.

Because His love for her is pure, holy, and without blemish.

This Son knows she will suffer.

His heart's desire is for His mother's burdens to be lightened.

By one He can trust to stand in His stead.

Near the end of His agony, Christ speaks to John and says,
"Behold, thy mother."

Mary will be cared for until the end of her days.

By John, Mary's son in spirit.


Motherhood is the highest of callings.

Every woman who has ever lived is called to that noble stewardship.

It does not matter if the woman has birthed biological children or not.

It simply does not matter.

What does matter is this:

The motherly woman will desire to love, teach and shepherd children.

This woman will gladly offer her individual talents, gifts and skills to that end.

And because of her motherly desires,

and because of her personal talents and gifts,

each of these women will become the most unique mother the world has ever known.

Motherhood is the most sacred sort of work.

It speaks of holy sacrifice.

And unnumbered blessings.

With every swish of Pompeo's brush......

he testifies to that truth.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


(Louis XIV, Hyacinthe Riguad, 1701, Louvre)

One of my favorite characters in all of history is France's illustrious leader, Louis XIV.

Known as the Sun King, Louie made his mark on French history for a boatload of reasons.

Here is the short list:

 *  He enjoyed the longest royal reign in European history to this point - 72 years!

*   He believed he was destined to rule France by "divine right" so he wasted no time imposing bunches of rules and regulations to keep his 20 million subjects in line.

*   Because he desired to dominate Europe,  he directed his army to engage in a series of wars in order to gain power and position on that continent.

*   He was a tireless promoter of French culture and the arts.

That last point is the one I want to focus on today.

Louie loaded his palaces with paintings, sculpture, tapestries, candlesticks, vases, chandeliers, mirrors, rugs, porcelains of every variety and luxurious fabrics.

(Louie used this candlestick to kill Mrs. Peach in the library, Versailles)

Money was no object.

(Louie liked to feather his nest.  Bed canopy complete with ostrich feather plumes, Versailles)

If Louie liked it, Louie acquired it or he had it built to his personal taste.

(Louie's media room, Versailles)

And he wasn't particularly shy about sharing the joys of his "cottages" with the ladies and gentlemen of his court.

(Louie's casual portrait, Chenonceau)

Louie loved throwing lavish dinner parties and spectacular balls for his 12 million closest friends.

All in all, he was quite the dude!

That's why I love the top portrait of Louie by renowned court painter, Hyacinthe Rigaud.

I have affectionately titled it, "I'M DA MAN!"

One glance at this portrait and there is little doubt in anyone's mind who is king of France.

Mercy! - where do we start?

How about that magnificent robe?

First of all, it's cobalt blue topside is literally smothered in fleur-de-lis, the coat of arms of the French royal family back in the day.

And just in case you missed them, Louie's chair/throne, ottoman and pillow are swathed in the same "I am the head honcho" symbols.

The white underside of this robe is ermine, by the way.

That massive robe had to be scorching hot to wear, don't you think?

Louie is probably thinking to himself, "Hey, Hyacinthe, would you get on with it, my man?  I'm dying a slow death under this furry tent!"

Next, we notice that Louie is leaning ever so regally on his scepter which just happens to be pointing to his gold crown.

How's that for subtlety?

It's obvious by now that Louie liked to live large.

Check out the size of that column behind his right arm.

And what about that dramatic ruby-red drapery hanging from the rafters?

Have you noticed that gold sword dangling from his left hip?


Look at the size of it!

I'm pretty sure Louie could spear 300  soldiers at once with that thing.

Not that he'd ever want to, of course.

I hate to get personal but let's take a closer look at Louie's more delicate attire.

He's drowning in lace and silk as was the custom of the day for aristocratic males.

Frankly, I'm coveting those lacey cuffs on his sleeves.

And I wish my legs looked as good as Louie's.

You can tell he really knows how to strut his stuff.

But I'll bet his tootsies are screaming for breathing room in those darling little heels!

I've just got to say it - Louie can seriously keep his curly black wig.

That's just a little too much hair for me to deal with on any day of the week.

Well, now, I've thoroughly trashed the good king, haven't I?

Here's the thing:

Sometimes art is just plain funny.

Especially if the subject of the art is kind of asking for it.

Which, viewed from our 21st century American perspective, he is.

It's okay to snicker in an art museum.

You can even laugh your silly little head off if you want to.

Visitors will probably turn around and shoot you a death stare but that's their problem.

This is the wonderful thing about art.

It's supposed to be a human experience.

Not everything in life is drop dead serious.

Ditto for art museums!

So, go!




Have a rollicking good time.

But here's a final thought:

Louie's portrait is hanging proudly in the Louvre these days.

That's in Paris, France.

This is just me, but I'd probably skip the "laugh your silly little head off" directive if I was standing in front of Louie and his over-the-top painting.

Louie's French museum guards might not take too kindly to my gut busting outburst.

Grinning, however, would be good.

Don't be surprised if Louie flashes one right back at ya!


Louis XIV founded the academies of Painting and Sculpture in 1655.  He established the academy of Science in 1666 and the academy of Architecture in 1671.

In 1680, he created the Comedie Francaise.

Louie's interest in improving Paris never waned.

He razed the city's medieval walls, built the Invalides as a home for disabled veterans, planned the great avenue of the Champs-Elysees, and refurbished the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

His personal example of long, dedicated rule made France the bureaucratic model for 18th century, absolutist Europe.

Louie's influence on architecture and interior design was monumental.  His style was a French adaptation of baroque, emphasizing formal grandeur and lush ostentation.  The king's palace at Versailles was the supreme example of this style, in which all the arts - architecture, sculpture, painting, interior design, and landscape design - were integrated into a unified expression of royal taste.    

Monday, November 14, 2011


(Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery, Karen LaMonte, 2006, Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, TN)

I can't stand it another minute.

I've got to write about Karen LaMonte's dazzling glass gown in the Hunter Museum of Art in Chattanooga.

This is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful sculptures ever created.

As I usually do, I decide to check out the wall plate at the Hunter so I can glean more knowledge about this stunning work of art.

As it turns out, Ms. LaMonte is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design.

If that doesn't scream major "creds" I don't know what does.

After she left Rhode Island, Karen moved to Prague with a handy-dandy Fullbright Scholarship in her hot little hands.

It goes without saying that this girl is off the charts with smarts and skills!

While hanging out in Prague, Karen got busy investigating Czech glass casting traditions.


it glows.




It reflects light like nobody's business.

What a glorious medium for an artist to work with!

Allow me to say right here and now that Karen's sculptures are life-size

She's not into tiny.

That's another thing I like about her work.

You don't have to carry around a magnifying glass in order to see her work.

How does Karen create her fabulous frocks?

I checked out a second dress and a second wall plate at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio and latched on to some further details.

First, she forms a wax casting of a woman's body.

Then she dresses the wax casting in an evening gown.

Next, she makes another mold of this fully clothed "body."

And then she casts the whole thing into glass.

Finally, the glass is sandblasted and acid-polished.

By now, the waxy woman's body is long gone.

But it's definitely not forgotten

The "inner cavity" retains the image of the imprint of the body even though there is no actual body present.

And that's exactly why Karen's sculptures are so drop-dead gorgeous.

You get the feeling that you are looking at a gowned body.

But you are not.

You are looking at a gown as if it were clinging to a body.

And what a gown it is!

It's chock full of gathers, folds and pleats.

Just look at that cascading drapery!

It crunches, it smooshes, it crinkles.

Always in just the right places.

It fits our body-less woman like a glove.

And it does all of these things while glowing with a delicate frosty shimmer.

My stars!

This is beauty at its best.

According to my Hunter information, LaMonte enjoys "exploring the dress form as a metaphor for gender, identity and the human body."

Facts from the Toledo Museum of Art take us a step further:

"For LaMonte,  the "empty" dress evokes the fragility of the human condition.  Further, it references the idea of clothing as a kind of controlling container.  It projects ideals of appearance and wealth promoted by high fashion, while questioning the psychological and social implications of the way we dress."

Well, I'll be.

Isabella d'Este and I thought it was just a beautiful dress!

That's another thing I love about artists.

They try to teach us something about ourselves and our very human condition.

And that can often lead to surprising "A-ha" moments.

Still, there are days when I simply want to enjoy the gorgeous-ness of it all.

I want eye candy.

Karen's gowns are feasts for my feminine soul.

And you know what?

There are days when that's just what the doctor ordered.


For more photos of Karen's magnificent gowns, go to:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


(Isabella d'Este, Titian, 1534, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna)

The chink in Isabella's armor is one that nearly every woman can identify with in one way or another.

In fact, it seems to be a curse - sometimes a "blessing"-  that follows us from the minute we gasp our first breath of air until the moment we depart from this life.

For some, it is an issue that looms ghost-like over their feminine experience.

For others,  the ghost becomes all too real.

It can swallow a woman alive and destroy her mind, body and spirit.

The chink certainly played havoc in the life of Isabella d'Este.


when Isabella peered into her mirror, she did not like what she saw.

One writer has described Isabella as having "a lively grace."

What exactly does this mean?

Perhaps we'll never really know - at least in terms of Renaissance sensibilities.

But, for me, I think it implies that Isabella possessed a bright and shining personality.

I'm sure it also means that she enjoyed being around and interacting with people.

The word "grace" implies that Isabella knew how to move herself around a room full of people.

I'm thinking that she didn't step on a lot of literal toes.

And I doubt if she jostled many elbows as she breezed through a Renaissance salon in her pouffy embroidered gown

I would like to believe that Isabella's "lively grace" prompted her to be kind, compassionate and empathetic to those around her as well.

The same author states that Isabella possessed "lively eyes."

That's easy, isn't it?

The eyes being the windows of the soul and all.

I think we could safely say that Isabella's eyes shown brightly.

That's because they were filled with an inner light that sparked her very being.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm sold.

Sign me up for the next shindig at Isabella's place!

I'll admit it.

I'm unabashedly charmed by people with Isabella's social skills and talents.

Our writer completes his critique of our lady's physical appearance with these words:

"She was slightly plump."

* * * * * *

Several months ago I heard about a woman named Aunt Kathy who was "slightly plump" as well.

Whenever family photographs were taken, Aunt Kathy refused to be in them.

She was embarrassed by her physical appearance.

Aunt Kathy's family adored her fun-loving spirit and engaging personality.

She was the life of every family gathering.

Then one day she passed away.

Soon, Aunt Kathy's loved ones began to hunt for a photograph of their beloved aunt.

They wanted a picture of her to help remind them of all the wonderful times they had shared with their "lively" Aunt Kathy.

But there were no pictures to be found - anywhere.

By refusing to have her picture taken, Aunt Kathy had in effect erased herself from mortal life.

All because she was "slightly plump."

That's one of the saddest stories I've ever heard.

Here's another one:

Some years ago, I watched a talk show about the pros and cons of face lifts.

A woman named Susan was interviewed at length by the host.

Susan admitted to having 26 face lift procedures done on herself over time.

Her face had been pulled so tightly across her head that her distinguishing features were no longer visible.

The host asked Susan this question:  "Why have you been willing to endure the pain of 26 face lifts?"

Susan's answer startled me:  "I know I have gained more beauty and self-esteem with each of my surgeries.  Each one has made me feel better about myself."

Next, the host held up a glossy 8 x 10 of Susan's pre-surgery face for millions to see.

I stared at the image in disbelief.

Susan had been a beautiful young woman with lovely features - perfectly proportioned in every way.

What IS it about us women?

What brings us to the point in life where we no longer believe we are beautiful just the way we are?

Are we born with these debilitating ideas in our little baby girl heads?

Or have they been drummed into our brains by our cultures over time?

Perhaps it's both of these things and a whole lot more.

* * * * * *

These are the words on the wall plate that accompanies Isabella's bust in the Kimbell:

"Isabella was not as attractive as she would have liked, and often complained that her portraits were unflattering."

Please allow me to illustrate this point with the following information:

The image at the beginning of this post is a portrait of Isabella painted by the great Venetian artist, Titian.

She was 60 years old at the time of the sitting.

(Detail of Titian's Isabella at top of post)

That's right.

Sixty years old.

That's gotta be the spiffiest 60 year old woman I've ever seen!

Now, for more of the story:

Originally, Titian had painted a more age appropriate Isabella.

But she wouldn't accept it.

Isabella was so unhappy with the first portrait that she made Titian go back to his canvas a second time.

The result?

A much younger looking Isabella.

Experts believe that she looks about 40 years younger, in fact!

Obviously, Isabella was not a proponent of truth in advertising.

We don't know if Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens, was either, for that matter.

One day Rubens decided to copy the original portrait that Titian had painted 65 years earlier.

(Today, Titian's original portrait of Isabella no longer exists.)

The image below is Ruben's interpretation of Titian's portrait - the one that Isabella did not like.

(Isabella d'Este, Rubens, 1605, Kunst Historiches Museum, Vienna)
{This portrait of Isabella was painted 65 years after her death}

Did Rubens age Isabella?

I'm thinking not a lot.

Did he put a little weight on her?

I think it's possible.

What do you think?

The larger question is this:

Why does any of this  matter?

Because it doesn't for women of any age who have leaned to divorce themselves from the tyranny of their culture's perceptions of beauty.

Admittedly, this is not an easy thing to do.

And it doesn't matter to a woman who has grown to love herself over a lifetime of challenges that have taught her who she really is.

Easier - but watch out for tricky obstacles along the way.


I would have loved to have seen the stick-my-face-out-there, 60 year old Isabella.

Wrinkles, lines, and saggy chin.

Bring it all on, girl!

Something tells me that you, my dear, were one hot tamale!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


(Bust of Isabella d'Este, Gian Cristoforo Romano, 1500, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas)

My heart was jumping when Bob and I walked into the Kimbell Museum of Art in Fort Worth.

The Kimbell, though small in size, has a stellar reputation in the world of art.

This museum contains exquisite examples of art from many of the most talented artists who have lived on this planet.

Putting it simply, the Kimbell doesn't mess around with inferior stuff.

So, was I surprised when I saw "Renaissance Woman" Isabella d'Este staring at me face to face with her no-pupil eyes?

No......I wasn't.

But I was pleased as punch to see her again.

Isabella is an old friend

I've been running into her in my history books for years.

And a gazillion art museums as well.

Ms. Isabella was quite the Italian chick-a-dee.

She was intellectually gifted and a natural talent from the get go.

As a young girl, Isabella could read and translate Greek and Latin at the speed of light.

She learned to play the lute, sing and create new dances.

During her girlhood, she enjoyed discussing classic literature and the affairs of state with visiting ambassadors.

As an adult, Isabella loved pursuing cultural interests.

That may be the understatement of the year.

She collected art, of course, because she had the necessary funds to do so.

But she also sponsored a variety of philosophers, poets and painters of her day including the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian and Giovanni Bellini.

All heavy hitters in the world of art

It has been said that Isabella asked Leonardo to paint her portrait.

That particular request was never fulfilled.

But Leonardo eventually whipped up a drawing of her profile.

(Drawing of Isabella, Leonardo da Vinci, 1500, Art Renewel Center)

Nevermind that her husband gave the sketch away.


I'm thinking that may not have been the smartest move he ever made.

Here's another thing about Isabella:

She was politically brilliant.

When her husband was captured in 1509 and held hostage in Venice, Isabella swung into immediate action.

She directed Mantua's military troops and successfully held off that city's invaders until her husband's safe return in 1512.

That same year, she served as the official hostess at the Congress of Mantua.

The Congress was convening to discuss political issues between Florence and Milan.

Isabella  was a definite superstar in the political arena.

When her husband was advised of her many accomplishments,  it was said that he was angry and humiliated because Isabella's assertive leadership and political competency outshown his own.

Eventually, husband Francesco died.

Isabella became a dedicated head of state.

Taking this office seriously, she studied the problems facing her as ruler of Mantua.

Her great desire was to study those subjects that would have the most lasting benefit for her people.

She dug into the study of architecture, agriculture and industry.

In addition, she became a devotee of Machiavelli's, "The Prince," and personally adopted the principles outlined for rulers therein.

Oh, I almost forgot......

Back in 1500, she met up with French monarch,  Louis XII, in Milan who was visiting the area on a diplomatic mission.

On that occasion, she convinced Louis not to send in his troops against Milan.

It is said that the people of Mantua loved and respected Isabella.

I think we're beginning to see why.

Let's see now......

What else could this Renaissance Woman do?

She was a leader in the fashion world of her time.

She dressed in sumptuous gowns that were covered in rich embroidery.

That's pretty standard stuff for a woman of her position and financial means.

But Isabella was a fashion innovator as well.

She adored boyish caps and frequently adorned her head with them.

Eventually, these unusual but beautiful caps became her signature style.

Isabella's manner of dress was imitated all through Italy and France.

Anne of Brittany, a fan of Isabella's fashion sense, had a doll made in her likeness.

Well, now.

I hope I've managed to convince you that Isabella d'Este was indeed a Renaissance Woman.

But just in case you need a little nudge, I'd like you to know that Isabella started a school in Mantua for young girls.

And she converted her private apartments into a museum containing some of the finest art of the day.


That should pretty much do it.


Here's a fun fact for you:

Isabella d'Este created and mixed her own perfumes, wore them herself and gave them away as gifts.

I'm not a perfume lover myself - they give me headaches - but I am fascinated by that little tidbit about Isabella.

During her life and after her death, VIP's of all sorts paid tribute to Isabella.

Pope Leo X asked her to treat him with "as much friendliness as you would your brother."

The pope's secretary, Pietro Bembo, described Isabella as "one of the wisest and most fortunate of women."

Author of the day, Matteo Bandello, wrote that she was "supreme among women."

Not to be outdone, diplomat Niccolo da Correggio called Isabella "First Lady of the World."

Good night nurse!!!

I don't know about you, but just thinking about Isabella's beefy resume makes me feel like a complete slacker.

Here's a final fact for you:

There was a chink in Isabella's resplendent armor.

That chink was cause for much of Isabella's suffering.

We'll check out the chink next time.

I promise.

Monday, October 31, 2011


(The Potter, George de Forest Brush, 1889, Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth, Texas)

I love this painting.

It speaks to me in a very intimate way.

But before I tell you about my personal feelings, we need some background information.

First of all,  many of our prominent painters of the American Indian - Frederic Remington and Charles Russell are but two of these artists - often depicted male natives in the act of conflict with white men.

Certainly that was a fact of life for these people and one not to be glossed over nor forgotten - least of all by anyone who was caught in the middle of these struggles.

Still, it seems to me that genre scenes of Indian warfare serve to stereotype American Indians primarily as a war-loving people.

Here's another thought:

These same artists - and others - painted American Indians who were nearly always engaged with the natural world in one way or another.

For example, a popular theme was the depiction of American natives traveling across the heat of the desert on horseback.

In addition, depictions of the physical rigors of battling and conquering buffalo were favorite subjects as well.

Finally, painted scenes highlighting native customs and culture were frequently favored by Old West masters.

Obviously, there is a place for each of these themes in American native art.

But I sometimes wonder if these sorts of subjects haven't been over done a bit.

I think it's possible.


In time, George de Forest Brush entered the world of American native art.

And with him came his masterpiece, "The Potter."

Brush, a native of Shelbyville, Tennessee, spent three years in Paris studying at the prestigious Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts.

Now, let's take a closer look at our Indian potter.

Examine his taut muscles and his finely detailed bones.

Only a master of the physical form could depict such attributes so perfectly.

Dr. Rick Stewart, a senior curator at the Amon Carter Museum, has said:

"Brush's academic training was grounded in the French tradition, which focused on the idealized human body.  Brush drew and painted the human figure with meticulous precision."

No kidding.

But that's not all.

When I first encountered "The Potter," I thought it was a photograph.

That's because the colors placed on the subject's body were so true to life.

As I peered at the painting, I became entranced with the shimmery texture of the man's skin.

I nearly expected the potter to rise up off his teal-tinged rug and walk toward me.

I'm glad he didn't.

But, needless to say, Brush brought a highly defined talent for depicting realism to his work.

And - please excuse my personal musings - I am a huge fan of realism.

The current powers that be in the world of art would not necessarily approve.

According to many of them, realism is old school and, thus, infinitely boring.


Perhaps those same powers that be should open their minds a tad more frequently and make room for beauty wherever it's found.

Just a thought.

Here's another one:

Our American native is shown as a solitary figure.

He is, of course, creating a work of art.

More often than not, the act of creating art REQUIRES solitude.

An artist must be able to think.

And an artist must be able to feel.

A serious creator can't perform either of those acts if someone is jibber-jabbering in her ear.

I can testify to that.

I am a writer.

I create flows of words on a page.

Some of those flows may be effective.

They may serve to enlighten my readers' understanding of the subject at hand.

Some of them may miss the mark completely.

My point is this:

In order do create those word flows, I must be able to think and I must be able to feel.

So when I am in the act of writing, I can not be disturbed, distracted or otherwise disengaged from my work.

Fortunately, I live with a person who understands this.

So does our native potter.

He is intently focused on the work at hand as he glazes his vase.

Please believe me when I tell you that the green glaze on that vase catches your visual attention with lightening speed.

The white glaze - swirling as it does across the body of the pot -  adds to that dramatic effect.

We could say that "The Potter" is a simple painting.

After all,  Mr. Brush has painted an economy of things on his canvas.

We see one man, one rug, one animal skin and three pots.

Not a lot of stuff, to be sure.

And that's a good thing.

Because all we need to see is that focused human being in the act of creation.

Human beings have been destined to create since day one.

The act of artistic expression is one of the attributes that distinguishes us from other life forms.

Creation brings light and life to our lives.

It brings hope, understanding and joy as well as a myriad of other virtues.

Art matters.

It speaks to our spirits in ways that edify our fragile humanity.

That is why art excites me.

With "The Potter," we see a single, solitary individual creating a work of art with his heart, his mind and his hands.

For me, that is a godly image.

A sacred image that refreshes my spirit daily.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


(Chloe And Sam, Thomas Hovenden, 1882, Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth, Texas)

Little did I expect to find two new friends as I ambled into a brightly lit gallery at the Amon Carter Museum.

But find them I did.

I felt honored to be invited into their lives if only for a few hallowed moments.


Chloe and Sam are two of the most elegant human beings I have seen on canvas or in any other place for that matter.

Each of these people exude a dignified richness of grace.

In addition to that, American painter Thomas Hovenden has blessed them with a restrained and tasteful simplicity.

Chloe and Sam possess a refined sense of propriety.

They know what is good, proper and right.

And, in my opinion, they represent these virtues to the highest degree.

Hovenden found his model for "Sam" in his neighbor, the elderly Sam Jones.

Samuel Jones was a free black man.

Today, it is presumed that Sam's real life wife, Hester, served as the model for "Chloe."

Or, more specifically, "Aunt Chloe."

This name was easily recognizable to late 1800's viewers because "Aunt Chloe" was the wife of Harriet Beecher Stowe's literary character, "Uncle Tom."

"Chloe" represents the stalwart black domestic worker who is the very backbone of the ante-bellum Southern household.

In 1881, Thomas Hovenden moved to Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.

Ultimately, he chose a house that had served as a stop on the underground railroad.

We may be correct to assume that the house and all that it symbolized profoundly affected the painter.

He used the cozy abode as a backdrop for several of his domestic genre scenes.

Eventually, Hovenden created a series of paintings honoring the heritage of abolitionism that distinguished Plymouth Meeting - a peace-loving Quaker settlement.

Let's examine "Chloe and Sam' closely.

What is that circular object Sam is holding in his right hand?

It's a lid to a pot.

Sam has removed the lid so he can better see what's cooking in that copper pot.

Domestic portraiture doesn't get any more basic than this.

Most of us can relate to Sam's desire to check on his culinary work.

It's part of what naturally happens when you cook.

But what I love about Sam's portrait is the upward, vertical position of his left hand.

His fingers are gently bent toward his head.

Is our artist deliberately trying to point to Sam's head with those lithe fingers?


But we don't really know.

If that is the case, perhaps Hovenden wants us to realize that Sam is thinking about his soon-to-be meal.

But there could be more to it than that.

For me, Hovenden's Sam has become a master cook.

One who has gone beyond the point of simple domestic duty.

Indeed, Sam is creating an edible masterpiece.

With the grace and flair of any respected artist.

Frankly, I can hardly wait to be invited over for a taste of whatever is brewing in his pot!

Now let's take a look at Chloe.

The light shines directly on her creamy cotton bodice.

Under that bodice beats a heart of gold.

Chloe is a caretaker extraordinaire!

How do we know?

Obviously, she's tending to her batch of ironing.

But there's something else.

She's glancing down at Sam's pot.

And checking up on Sam's activities.

Chloe is a multi-tasker.

Like every single domestic goddess on this planet.

She's got to oversee the whole of what's going on!

But is there any sign that she is a meddler?


Not at all.

She's simply investigating and surmising.

Perhaps she's dreaming about the delicious things to come from Sam's creative hand.

Don't you just love that fabulous turban on Chloe's head?

The colors in that turban echo the rich terracottas and the forest greens seen in the layered rugs under Chloe's feet and in the folded fabrics on the chair.

Except for these intense shots of color, this room is awash in earth tones of subtle beige and brown.

I love the fact that Chloe is wearing glasses.

Obviously, she needs them in order to see her work.

But in my heart of hearts, I want to believe that Chloe is a woman of spiritual humility and godly refinement as well.

She has evolved in that way because she studies her Bible every day.

Chloe knows what's important in her life.

And she's determined to stay focused on all that is true and edifying.

I do not mean to imply, however, that Sam and Chloe don't know how to have a rollicking good time.

Because I truly sense that they do.

Their good times are filled with conversation,  laughter and affection for family and friends.

Maybe even some dancing and game playing.

Oh, my!

Our glimpse into the everyday lives of Chloe and Sam humbles us.

There is no way for us to understand the hardships of their lives.

We were not alive when they lived and breathed.

When they suffered through body and spirit wrecking work.

Uncalled for abuse.

And the deepest humiliations.

I am glad of it.

Not long ago, The Amon Carter Museum presented a lecture entitled "Beyond the Power of Words to Tell."

A discussion of Hovenden's "Chloe and Sam" was included in that lecture.

The title of the lecture says it all, doesn't it?

There are those times when words alone will not suffice.

That was the feeling that settled over me when I first met "Chloe and Sam."

I feel privileged that I got to "visit" them in their own home.

Where the rich tapestry of their private lives is so beautifully represented.


Harriet Beecher Stowe's moral charge to her reader's is this:

"Think of your freedom every time you see "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Monday, October 17, 2011


(Store Front, Robert J Smith, 1933, Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, Ohio)

I have a black belt in shopping.

And it's a good thing or I never would have made it through the retail maze known as Harrods department store.

Truth be told, Harrods had a rather humble beginning.

Years ago, a gentleman by the name of Henry Charles Harrod opened a small grocery shop on Brompton Road in London.

Actually, this retail event took place more than a few years ago.

It was 1849 to be exact.

Henry's store soon became known for its wonderful service and high quality goods.

Ahh - the sweet smell of success!

Today, the store's patrons enjoy over-the-top shopping at Harrods current premises in the Knightsbridge section of London.

The star department at Harrods is its magnificent Food Hall.

Gawkers from all parts of the globe unite at the Food Hall to stare at the outrageous culinary wonders.

Is fresh fish on tonight's dinner menu?

Don't worry your pretty little head another second.

Harrods will fix you up in fresh fish style!

They sell artisanal cheeses from all over the world.

And highly exotic fresh fruits and veggies.

Don't even get me started on the chocolate!

Or the tea cakes, jams and the British biscuits.

(Otherwise known as "cookies" to us clueless Americans.)

In addition to these stylish grocery items, Harrods sells - among other glorious things - fashion, china, art, electronics and jewelry.

Did I mention jewelry?

Why, I believe I did!

Do you hear it?

Miss Merry's bling bell is clanging like gangbusters!

Now let's get serious here.

Harrods's bling has absolutely NOTHING to do with Macy's bling.

Harrods's bling doesn't even reside in the same galaxy - let alone the same planet - as Macy's bling.

You can trust me on this.

I've salivated over every twinkling piece of Harrods spectacular jewelry.

More than once.


More than three times.

Harrods is a department store operating on some serious steroids.

It sells the best, of the best, of the very, very best.

So I guess it shouldn't come as any surprise that Harrods restrooms are equally smashing.

I'm talking about the ladies rooms, of course.

(Just so you know, I plan to live the rest of my life in complete ignorance of what goes on in the gentlemen's restrooms.)

I'll never forget the day I was introduced to the ladies room at Harrods.

Gretchen and I had been shopping and eating our happy brains out.

Eventually, the inevitable happened.

Nature called.

In my case, she went right to speed dial.

Immediately, Gretch and I went on the hunt for the nearest restroom.

I soon decided to cut to the chase and put our Harrods map to good use.


Here's what happens when you arrive at Harrods:

The doorman hands you a map of the store as he graciously opens the door for you.

Then he smiles brightly and says:  "Good morning, Madam!"

(Please remind again me why I'm choosing to live in the United States of America when I could be living next door to Harrods in London, England.)

There's good reason for holding onto your map.

Harrods is humongous!

And by that I mean B......I......G!

There is a blurb on the brochure/map which states that a mother/daughter shopping team once decided to go their separate shopping ways after dining on lunch in one of Harrods' yummy restaurants.

They spent two hours trying to find each other until one of them got smart and asked  Harrods superb customer service personnel for assistance.

Just for the record......



After consulting the map, we are ecstatic to discover that the nearest ladies room is just steps away.

We quickly waddle over there.

Gretch opens the door to what is obviously...... ladies room heaven.

Immediately, my eyes fall on a woman attendant dressed in sparkling white.

She is busy flitting around the spacious ladies room.

And smiling at everyone.

She holds a gorgeous crystal perfume bottle in her hand.

The kind that has the rubber ball that dispenses a spray of perfume every time it's squeezed.

I glance to my left and see a magnificent silver tray sitting on the marble topped vanity.

An assortment of beautiful perfume bottles stand on the tray.

I study them for a few seconds.

These wonderful perfumes are - what else? - the very best perfume the world has to offer.

I am standing in the doorway staring at this delightful attendant when she sees me.

Our eyes lock.

Then she smiles as her arm gently brushes against the stall door nearest her.

The door opens slowly.

She beckons for me to come toward her.

I obey.

That's because I've never had a personal escort to a restroom stall.

Not once in my natural life.

Unless, of course, you count my mom who escorted me regularly when I was three years old.


Not counting that.

I am completely transfixed and ready to soak up every moment of this experience.

Really ready.

Please allow me to be honest here.

If this charming woman had asked me to accompany her on a toasty tour of Hell I would have looked at her glassy-eyed and said,  "When do we leave?"

As I walk toward the stall, I see my attendant flush the toilet ever so gently.

Not that it needed to be flushed.

The previous patron had already taken care of that duty quite nicely.

My "lady- in- waiting" is making absolutely sure that my commode is as fresh as a summer's day.

Just before I reach the stall, this saintly woman squeezes the perfume's atomizer directly into my stall.

I can hardly believe what I am seeing.

Suddenly, a spritz of soft, citrusy fragrance floats into the surrounding air.


With my angelic lady-in-waiting.

And with the idea that I must, contrary to popular opinion, be a queen after all.

Hadn't I just been treated like one?

I tip my attendant a ridiculous amount of money and then step into my freshened stall.

As I sit on my "throne" I meditate on all that has just occurred.

Then, much too soon, my mind snaps back to reality.

Seconds later, Gretch and I meet at the marble vanity.

"Can you believe this?" I ask her in hushed words.

"They do make you feel like royalty," she replies enthusiastically.

Reluctantly, we shuffle out of the ladies room.

I think to myself,  "I wonder if I could persuade Bob to spritz perfume into my bathroom at home?"

"Like maybe 53 times a day."

Instantly, my mind answers its own question:

"Honey, live right and die happy because there's not a chance in this world!"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


(Cheese Ball Eating Alligator, Merryscribe, 2011, Windshield Museum of Art)

Occasionally, some well meaning person will ask me the following question:

"Since you love art so much why aren't you an artist?"

My answer to this inquiry is always:

"Get serious.  I love art.  I don't love work. Creating art is hard work. Therefore,  I'm a gazer; not a do-er.  End of story."

But something has happened that has rocked my world to its very foundation.

And, as a result, that statement is no longer true.

Whenever I am asked that question in the future, I will be forced to say:

I am an artist.

A full-blown,


honest to goodness......


Let's back-track a few days:

Bob and I are driving to Dallas to begin our TOTAL TEXAS ART TOUR.

We've been sitting in our trusty Malibu long enough to petrify our lumpy backsides.

I decide to prop my feet on top of the dashboard.

Please allow me to paint a more complete picture for you:

This means that my heels are digging into the dash and my toes are scrunched up and pasted to the


This is what I call TOOTSIE HEAVEN!

That is, if I don't let my feet rest on the dash too long.

If I get careless and lose track of time, my legs become paralyzed within minutes.

On this occasion I remove my feet from the windshield in the nick of time.

Under normal circumstances, TOOTSIE HEAVEN is over at this point.

So I move on to counting hairy goats as we breeze by on the interstate.

But not this time.

This time I notice a distinct image on the windshield.

"What is that thing?" I ask myself.

It looks exactly like an alligator head.

An alligator head with its jaw cracked open.

An alligator head with its jaw cracked open snaring a line of cheese balls in its mouth.

I study this image in wonderment.

Naturally, I say nothing to Bob.

He already believes I'm two tacos short of a combo plate.

This will only confirm it.

I can't take my eyes off the alligator head.

Maybe I'm seeing some sort of apparition.

Or maybe a bird flew into the windshield while I was snoozing.

And its dead body left a fascinating souvenir on the exterior glass.

Who knows?

I decide to think about other things.

Like where to eat lunch.

Just then I see a huge billboard whiz by.

Chick-fil-a is three exits ahead on the interstate.

We pull off and wolf down 8, 492 fat grams in less than four minutes flat.

Returning to the Malibu, my eyes are immediately drawn to the alligator head.

"Its still there," I think to myself.

"How in the world did this happen?"

Suddenly, my brain fires up two – maybe three – wobbly cells.


I massaged my feet with peppermint oil this morning before we left the house.

My toes did this.

They smudged the glass when I scrunched them on the windshield!

It was me who created this cheese-ball-eating alligator head.

(Leave it to me to create art with food as one of the primary subjects.)

Later, I decide to throw caution to the wind, and draw Bob into my artsy world.

"Do you see anything over here on my side of the windshield?" I ask innocently.

Bob glances at the windshield.

"Sure" he says matter-of-factly. "I see an alligator head."

"Nooooooooo! You do not!" I reply in mock horror.

"Yes, I do. I definitely see an alligator head."

My heart is racing.

"Me too!  I created it!" I tell Bob enthusiastically.

"I put some oil on my feet this morning and this is the incredible result!"

Bob smiles weakly.

Then he looks at me with a vacant stare.

"Is that right?" he asks.

"Yes! Do you see the cheese balls flying into its mouth?"

"I guess they could be cheese balls," he replies hesitantly.

"Oh, they're definitely cheese balls!" I inform him.

Returning his gaze to the road ahead, he says, "If you say so."

I study the alligator head more seriously.

"I'm feeling a surge of creativity coming on. Maybe......" I think to myself.

"Maybe I should add a body to my alligator's head."

Then, using my oil based  toes, I squish a new series of smudges onto the canvas – umm- windshield.

(Alligator Head and Body, Merryscribe, 2011, Windshield Museum of Art)

As I joyfully create, I think to myself: "Hey, if Claude Monet is the father of Impressionism,  it's totally obvious that I am the mother of Smudge-ism."

Furthermore, it's equally apparent that I have discovered not just Smudge-ism.

It's way bigger than that.

I will forever be known as the distinguished founder of ACCIDENTAL ART!

Who knew?

But then again, this is how pure genius is born, isn't it?

It's all coming together right this very minute.

My name will go down in the annals of art history.

And deservedly so.

Because I create stuff.

I am an artiste!

And any artiste worth her salt must go where no artiste has gone before.

She must  innovate.

She must create new ways of looking at objects.

Then she must use new materials as she shrewdly molds those objects into previously unknown visual representations.

I humbly submit to you that I have done just that.

My alligator head has sprung from the enlightened use of my oily toes.

Hence, "Smudge-ism" has entered the world.

That, my friends, is the artistic process.

It really is as simple as that.

Let's take a few minutes to examine some basic art history.

For instance, take your ordinary, garden-variety canvas painters.

I'm talking about people like Leonardo da Vinci,  Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh.

All boring brush users.

I'm yawning already.

I have come up with something totally new and cutting edge.

Trust me on this - toe tools are the wave of the future.

And here's another thing:

All of the above-mentioned artists used an oil based medium just as I do when I create art.

I'll give them that.

But - and this is a very big but - were any of them clever enough to add a splash of peppermint scent to their paints?

I think not!

And - let's face it - it's that subtle hint of peppermint that makes all the difference to the viewing public.

Finally, it must be recognized that my artwork appears on vehicular glass.

Absolutely none of my revered colleagues were using any such thing!

I lean back into the passenger seat and admire my day's work.

I've just given my alligator head a smudge-based torso with my dainty peppermint-laced toes.

The beguiling result?

My alligator head has suddenly morphed into a stunning stegosaurus.

(Stegosaurus Morphing, Merryscribe, 2011, Windshield Museum of Art)

Surely, my work here is done.

But wait!

I'm feeling oddly creative again.

And that creative itch is just begging to be scratched.

So I carefully place the toes of my right foot on the windshield.

Awestruck,  I watch as my nimble appendages apply smudges to the lower torso of the stegosaurus.

Smudge by eerie smudge, four spindly legs appear on the body of my dinosaur.

Then, with no warning, my toes move to the business end of my smudgy creature.

As if by magic, a tail appears on "Steggy's" hind side.

Suddenly, my whole being collapses into a lengthy sigh.

I feel drained, spent, limp to the bone.

Instinctively, I know that my critter is complete.

And perfect.

(Steggy Completely Perfect, Merryscribe, 2011, Windshield Museum of Art)

"This must be what Leonardo felt like when he finished the "Mona Lisa!" I muse to myself.

Although it has been a long and frustrating journey,  I have finally discovered the purpose for which I was created.

And because of that discovery,  everything in my life has changed.

Now - there can be no going back


By the way, I've got a message for you, Mr. Michelangelo.

You know that ceiling you painted in the Sistine Chapel?

We're over it.

It's time to move on, Mike.

Merry's bringin' on the smudge.

Note to my readers:

Lithographs of "Steggy Completely Perfect" will soon be available to my art savvy readers for $1, 500,000  per print.

The artist will sign each lithograph for an additional $500,000.

You must get in on the ground floor of this offer before the art market swallows up "Steggy Completely Perfect."

Consider yourselves warned.

Please do not  follow in the sad footsteps of Renaissance gentleman, Guido Botcheditup, who passed on the opportunity to purchase Leonardo's "Mona Lisa" for a mere 5 florens in 1510.

Guido's descendants are still cursing his name to this very day!

Friday, September 30, 2011


(The Sword, Alfred-Pierre Agache, 1896, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto)

"The Sword" by French painter Alfred-Pierre Agache is one of my favorite paintings of all time

May I say at the outset, this painting may not ring your personal bells.

It's dark and stark.

Some might even say that it's just this side of menacing.

Those thoughts and feelings are valid.

But stay with me for a few minutes and let's see where today's discussion takes us.

The woman in this artwork represents "justice."

How do we know?

The first clue is this:

She's wearing the "robe of justice" over her no-nonsense back gown.

This figure represents justice because she is wearing judge-like attire.

That's easy enough.

Do you know what I love about her regal-like costume?

It's that wide, waist-cinching leather belt.

And let's not forget those finely gloved hands.

The fingers of both hands are clenched tightly inside the worn leather.

These are more clues that tell us this woman means exactly what she says. 

"Justice" stares directly at her viewers.

With a calm and steady assurance.

Agache wants us to look at those deep set, piercing eyes.

And that full-on, frontal gaze.

How do we know?

Check out that magnificent sateen ribbon encircling our lady's head and neck.

Acting as a halo, it draws our attention to her face.

You'll have to trust me on this but that golden ribbon stands out like nothing else in Agache's painting.

The artist wants us to notice this woman's haunting face.

Make no mistake.

It is the sword bearer who is speaking to us in this painting.

That being true, the sword is an unmistakable presence.

It's metallic gleam slices horizontally across the painting.

It rests upon the sturdy lap of "Justice" who grips it tightly with her right hand.

The sword's hilt (handle) lies at the far left of the painting.

It's highlighted by the scarlet fabric which covers the seat where "Justice" sits.

There's nothing quite like a shot of blood red color to bring us to attention, is there?

That dark, mottled green is the perfect backdrop for our subject.

As is the veined marble pedestal our lady's food rests upon

All of these painterly devices tell us that this is a serious painting.

Not one to be taken lightly.

I don't know what "Justice" says to you.

But to me she is saying:


The model for "Justice" is Evelyn Beatrice Hall.

Ms. Hall wrote under the male pseudonym Stephen G. Tallentyre.

Of course she did!

For the most part, women writers were not taken seriously in her day.

Hall was an English writer best known for her biography of French philosopher Voltaire.

She finished writing "The Friends of Voltaire" in 1906.

It was Hall who created the phrase:  "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

This statement is often misattributed to Voltaire himself.

Of course it is!

Anyone with two brain cells knows that only men possess the ability to think and write about serious subjects.

She used this phrase as an illustration of Voltaire's beliefs in her biography of him.

Today,  Hall's quote is often used to describe the principle of freedom of speech.

I simply can't leave "Justice" without giving you more reasons why I love her.

The day Bob and I toured the Art Gallery of Ontario we were "museum pooped."

That means we were tired of walking through art museums.

One should not take this to mean, however, that we were tired of looking at art.

Let the record be known:  I AM NEVER TOO TIRED TO LOOK AT ART!

On the above mentioned day, we walked into a large, brightly lit gallery  and discovered "Justice" for the first time.

Up until that point, I had not known that "The Sword" existed.

I was immediately drawn to this work of art.

I stood in front of the painting and studied it for several minutes.

Why did "Justice" steal my mind and my heart?

In my opinion, this is one of the most majestic paintings ever created depicting a woman

This lady is not beautiful in the traditionally feminine sense of that word.

Her hair is - I'll be kind - unkempt.

Her classic Roman nose is a tad too large.

And her eyes are a little too close together.

She's not dressed in a frothy pastel frock dripping in jewels and flowers.

Her posture and clothing are - let's face it - masculine in nature.


I certainly don't.

When I went back to visit "Justice" for the fourth time on that fateful day, I stood in front of her and wept.

For me, "Justice" evokes the power, the intelligence and the inward strength of women.

This woman is not afraid to stand a part from the crowd and use her God-given skills and talents.

"Justice" knows who she is and she is secure in that knowledge.

She is unique among women and she knows it.

In fact, she feels honored by that fact.

I have struggled all my life to get exactly where she is in my own personal growth.

At the tender age of 65,  I can finally say that I've made it.

And so when I gaze teary- eyed at "Justice" I see, at last, a kindred spirit.

May it ever be so.

For me.

And for all you kindred sisters in spirit.


(The following information on the life of Evelyn Beatrice Hall is taken from Wikipedia.)

"It appears that Evelyn Hall influenced the life of Hugh Stowell Scott who died in 1903.   Upon his death, Scott willed 5,000 pounds to Hall.  He wrote: "In token of my gratitude for her continued assistance and literary advice, without which I  should never have been able to have made a living by my pen."   Adjusting for inflation, this amounts to somewhere between 399,000 and 710,000 pounds in the year 2010."

"The Sword" is one of the most popular paintings in the Art Gallery of Ontario  When it is taken off view and put in storage for brief periods of time, the AGO receives requests to bring it back to the gallery.

Evelyn, you rock!