Tuesday, May 3, 2011

a Fayum Portrait at the Nelson-Atkins

My favorite painting at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is a Fayum Portrait located in the art deco room after one views the Meritites exhibit. This link from UMKC gives a nice overview of the history of the painting. Recently, I read John Berger's book The Shape of a Pocket. It's a book about many things, with many perspectives that really turned my brain inside out. One small chapter is a discussion of the Fayum Portraits. Berger shared his amazement, his consideration of what it might have been like for the subject to sit for such a portrait; a picture meant to accompany them in death, not a likeness meant to hang over the family hearth. And what was it like to be the painter of such a passport picture to the next world? This portrait was meant, literally, never to see the light of day, and yet now we see it. We look into her eyes, and we can even count the tiny grapes on her earring.

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