Thursday, February 2, 2012


("Profile of a Young Woman", Mino da Fiesole, 1455, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama)

As much as I love sculpture, this art form usually takes second place to the magic I find in color-splashed oil paintings.

That being true, I have to admit that the really wonderful thing about sculpture is that it is usually three dimensional.

That means it has body, weight and mass.

Simply put, you can walk around a work of sculpture and enjoy the view from several vantage points.

There's just something very enticing - and humanizing - about that.

"Bas Relief" sculpture is another thing altogether.

This is a form of sculpture in which figures are carved on a flat surface so that they project only a little from the background.

By their very nature, bas-relief sculptures do not have the same body, weight or mass as do three dimensional sculptures.

I have always been enamored by bas-relief works of art

They have a delicate beauty that simply can't be reproduced in any other art form.

Mino da Fiesole's "Profile of a Young Woman" is a perfect example of bas-relief at its finest.

Sculptor Mino was alive, well and working smack dab in the middle of the Italian Renaissance.

He was born in the pretty little Tuscan town of Fiesole which is just five miles north of Florence.

Mino's master teachers were the talented Desiderio da Settignano and Antonio Rosssellino - don't you just love Italian names? - who set him on a course to bigger and better things in the medium of sculpture.

Mino and his masters were fellow workers and good friends as well as academic cohorts.

Although most sculptors of his time were not able to travel to Rome for further study and work, Mino was blessed to live in Rome on two separate occasions.

Without a doubt, Mino's sculptural skills benefited from both of these study/work periods in Rome.

Mino's sculpture is distinguished by its finely polished surfaces and its delicacy of details.

He is known for his finesse with sharp, angular, richly carved drapery as well.

But his work is primarily noted for its strong sense of spirituality and its excellent representation of devotional feelings.

This is obvious when we look at his "Profile of a Young Woman."

Mino pulled at my heartstrings - again  - just a few days ago.

Bob and I walked into a splendid room containing lovely Renaissance oil paintings at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama.

And there was Mino's young woman, glowing in her subtle radiance on the center wall.

She is a woman not to be missed for many reasons.

But one of those reasons is this:

Spotlights are directed upon her elegant countenance from above.

Then its up to her viewers to admire her spiritual majesty.

And I, for one, did just that.

Let's take a closer look.

Although the young woman's head is seen in profile, her torso is actually turned just a bit forward, toward the viewer so we can get a better look at that gorgeous gown.

Scholars have determined that Mino's young woman is arrayed in the classical dress of Roman antiquity.

The gauzy material of her gown is gathered in a traditional knot on her chest.

Small, round buttons hold the diaphanous fabric together at her shoulder and upper arms.

Mino's rendering of the woman's delicate features creates the feeling of facial reality which is usually not found in lesser bas-relief art.

The texture of the woman's skin is a sight to behold.

It appears to be as smooth as a newborn's silky bottom.

How in the world does a sculptor - working with hard, cold marble - manage to convey that feeling to his viewers?

Only the best of the best are able to accomplish this feat.

The young woman's smooth-as-glass skin provides direct contrast to the finely pleated, angular folds of her gown.

And it is those striking contrasts that envelope Mino's viewers and brings them to a new appreciation of his mind-blowing talent.

Finally, we look at this young woman's hair.

It is tied up with narrow ribbons in at least two places on the back of her head.

Believe it or not, the woman's hair is covered with a nearly transparent veil.

(You'll have to take my word on this.)

The veil is edged with the most classic of all jewels - a magnificent string of graduated pearls.

Mino's pearls serve to highlight -  and decorate - the well proportioned forehead of his young woman.

Additionally, they follow the feminine curves of her head - gently grazing her ear and then slowly disappearing into the shadows at the nape of her neck.

This is Mino at his most sublime.

I feel privileged whenever I am able to experience Mino's work.

For it is, indeed, an experience.

And one of the highest order.

The simple truth is this:

I become a better person each time I immerse myself in one of Mino's sculptures.

And, for me, that is the high and holy purpose of all true art.

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