Wednesday, January 6, 2010

La Donna Velata

When I had my forty-eight hour vacation in the big city last weekend I did the things that a girl should do while she is in the big city-

*First, I bought shoes. Three pairs of shoes. Well, one was for my daughter- but still. I went to an actual shoe store and walked out with packages. I also bought a purse!

*I had crab cakes and cocktails at 11 p.m. (happy hour) at the hippest, hottest, most crowded bar in town which was on the thirtieth floor of the building and had great night-time views of the city lights.

*I had my morning strawberry crepes delivered to my room on a tray. A first time experience for this country girl.

*I wore high heels all day. Yes, I did.

*And....of course....I went to the art museum. Because, what is an excursion in the city without time spent wandering around the art museum? It's not a complete urban experience, I say.

It turns out that the day we were there was the last day of a special exhibit. A painting by Raffaello Sanzio, better remembered as Raphael, was on display at the Portland Art Museum, one of three stops it is making in the United States.

Raphael, Self portrait 1506

Raphael's works are very well-known. Maybe you recognize this iconic image:

It is a detail from his Sistine Madonna, this small portion being more well-recognized than the entire altarpiece.

The painting on exhibit at the Portland Art Museuam was a work that is considered to be one of the most important paintings of the High Renaissance, on par with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

Coincidentally, a number of years ago, Mr. Dirtywrench and I had a similar get-away weekend, that time to Seattle. On that trip we also made a spontaneous stop at the Seattle Art Museum, and there had the opportunity to view a special exhibit of Leonardo da Vinici's work. The exhibit consisted of his amazing scientific drawings and journal entries and one painting. (Da Vinci actually didn't do very many paintings.) It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to view those works and we just stumbled upon it.

Here in Portland, we were again stumbling on a once in a lifetime opportunity to view a masterwork from the Renaissance. It was the last day of the painting's exhibit in Oregon. In places like Florence or Paris it would cost a fortune and take hours in line to view such works. We decided we couldn't miss it.

The painting on display was La Donna Velata, The Woman with the Veil.
There are so many things to say about this painting. Where to begin?

Notice that the pose and expression are similar to the Mona Lisa. Raphael was a contemporary of Da Vinca and Michaelangelo and strongly influenced by Da Vinci. The artists of the Renaissance often strove to convey perfect beauty in their works. Michaelango's David and Da Vinci's Mona Lisa are well-known examples of this idealism.

The painting is so exquisite with the sumptuous sleeves of the gown (which I learned were detachable sleeves and the most important part of a woman's outfit), the pearl in the woman's hair, the stone necklace, her porcelain skin, the wisp of hair out of place, the veil and her direct, intimate gaze.

There is mystery surrounding the painting too. For five centuries there has been speculation about who the woman was.

Many think that the woman in La Donna Velata is the same woman in Raphael's La Fornarina (The Little Baker's Daughter). There are certainly similarities in features and pose.

Legend has it that the nude woman in this painting was Raphael's lover. It is written that she also was the model for the Sistine Madonna as well as his Madonna of the Chair (which I had the privilege of viewing a few years ago in Florence, Italy.)

I am so glad I had the chance to learn some of the fascinating history of this timeless masterwork and to experience again the brilliance of Raphael's talent. It was a privilege to stand and gaze upon this five hundred year old painting so close to my own hometown.

There is much more to enjoy at the Portland Art Museum including a stellar Impressionist gallery with a Monet Water Lily, Van Gogh's The Ox Cart, works by Degas, Rodin, and Renoir, among others.


  1. Just for a minute. And in my mind.

  2. Yeah, about those first few paragraphs.

    Who is this high-falutin' lady, anyway? Cuz here I thought I was reading my Mom's blog...


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