Calm B4 • Storm: The Cloisters: 3. The Faces

1 tapestry detail facesNever have faces been more important.

It struck me as Western art moved from the traditional spatialess medieval to the classically proportioned vistas, the body became more important and the face less so. Eighteenth and nineteen century portraiture, and movies of the twentieth century focused on the face. The beauty of the face struck me. I have been struck by some of the northern masters (Cranach, Holbein, Durer) and the recession after painters like Fra Angelico through Lorenzo di Credi to faces which are incorporated into the action, but not the reason for it. You can argue both Titian, Lorenzo Lotto and Velazquez, but their faces are solidly incorporated as devices which move into or out of the picture plane, but don’t arrest you like some here. The exception, Las Meninas, where the the lovely face of the beautiful little girl becomes the only reason for the whirlwind activity around her.

2 happy madonnaNot passively calm, nor blank, these madonnas have the beauty of happiness.

Nativity of the Virgin, 1480One of my favorite pieces was the Nativity of the Virgin, considering some of the horror stories of childbirth in ancient times, notice the sheer relaxation and beauty of St. Ann (headdress intact) and a wonderful baby!

1 Three Kings from an Adoration Grouping 1489The Three Kings from an Adoration Grouping of 1489 are almost uproarious, cartoony, yet look at the beautiful expressions of this polychrome sculpture.

1 beautifulCompare it to the simple beauty of this face.

3 face sculptureOr these faces.

1 germany private devotional shrine c 1490 The poignancy here in a Private Devotional Shrine from Germany, about 1490, Note the masterful carving and subtle polychrome.

1 altar with three faces1 three graces statuesThe first one looks like an ancestor of Meryl Streep! They all look like they might have come from a Perugino painting.

2 double stained

The nose and right eye of Jesus (lower panel) is a  precursor for Picasso, give or take a few centuries.

You can also check the Cloisters post dedicated to stained glass, or the ones for exteriors or interiors.

2 beauty of the face in deathIt seems even when portraying death, there is a certain life to the face.


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