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29 September 2013

A Sorolla Sunday Morning

A quiet Sunday morning, so I give you this:

“Children of the Sea.”  !909
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida

I really like Sorolla’s use of color and his compositions, but the little details make it for me.  Here, the looks and the hands. 

Let us start with the hands not clasped.  On the younger girl in white, her hand is blocked by her body.  Is she just in stride?  Or is her hand out in front of her to steady herself?  To feel the water?  Has she seen something (her head is cast downward) and is reaching out or pointing to it?  Now look at the empty hand of the taller and presumably older girl.  Her arm is slightly behind her and her weight is balanced, even though her shoulders are turned, her head is down, and her eyes are cast at the same point as the little girl.  The older girl’s empty hand is half-closed, not committed or engaged in activity, but not relaxed, either.

And now the clasped hands.  First, they are slightly off center.  In fact, the focal point of the painting rests out of view, under the waves.  It is the spot both girls are looking at, a point emphasized not only by their lines if sight, but by the way in which their shirts slip off their shoulders, the elder’s falling farther toward the center.  Those clasped hands, however, do meet directly over a point in the water where the lines run vertical.  Behind the girls, their wake trails off down to our left.  Their motion indicated they could be heading right.  But those hands are suspended over a transition point, and the way in which those hands are clasped shows us yet another change.

Imagine you are the younger child.  You have been to this beach many times, but were always held back by your elders.  “Be careful,” your parents call to you from their blanket on the shore.  “Stay with your sister.”  But today, things are different.  The usual instructions for caution are gone.  Your mother smiles at you and gives you a wink.  You are old enough to not need instructions for going into the water.  Each and every time you went into the sea before, your older sister held you back a little, guiding you, always stopping at a point near your waste, a safe place, not deep enough for a wave to knock you over.  Her hand was always the one in front, holding you back a little, reigning you in.  But today, at this point, you have switched hand positions.  You are pulling her a little.  “Come on, Silly.  Let’s go.  Look!  Look at that, in the water.  Such a beautiful bit of shell down there!”

And the older girl?  She looks.  She plays along.  She is being led today.  Perhaps she is reluctant at first.  Reluctance is the initial duty of the older sibling to the younger.  She has turned her head back to the beach.  Her father smiles and makes a gesture with his brush (he is going to paint this) for her to go on a little farther, that she should let her sister lead, but that she is there in case of danger.  She smiles back and turns.  Her sister is right.  The shell at the younger girl’s feet, just visible beneath the gentle waves, is quite stunning.  She too looks, she leans a little, her free hand relaxed, but ready in case she needs to pull her little sister back.  She is being led and yet, given her posture, she is ready to put on again the mantle of protective older sister.

Children walk in the sea, but where will they go?  Who will lead?  How many times will this scene play itself out in their lives? 

22 September 2013

Cicero's girl

Now, as in Tullias tombe, one lamp burnt cleare,
Unchang'd for fifteene hundred yeare,
May these love-lamps we here enshrine,
In warmth, light, lasting, equall the divine
                                                -John Donne

By Tullia’s grave

That gray and cold afternoon I saw him standing by her tomb, his hair disheveled, his clothes dirty, his eyes like rocks.  Cicero, I called out from my carriage as we came nearer.  No answer, though I could see his lips moving.  Citizen, I called out, drawing nearer still.  The sun was peeking out from behind a cloud, and a shaft of light poured down like a waterfall over the great man.  His hands hung at his sides, his fingers occasionally clutching into fists and then straightening out again, more reflex than willed motion.  His feet were bare and clean.  He remained still and unresponsive, his lips, those lips that had fought battles in court and before the senate, that had stood against Caesar’s legions with unmatched eloquence and grace, moved like sluggish caterpillars as he mumbled to himself.  When we pulled up along side him, I signaled and we stopped.  Cicero, I whispered.  His head moved, a twitch of recognition, and then nothing.  The wind, gusting until then, dropped at that moment, and I heard the words of the most powerful orator to ever draw breathe in our empire:
Tullia, my girl.  Tullia.  Tulliolla.  My girl.  My flower.  Tullia.
He spoke as one speaks to the gods.  He was at that moment simply Cicero, father.

R. R. Shea