Friday, January 15, 2021

Two kinds of light



"...[T]he light behind the figures seems almost the subject of the painting, rather than the figures themselves, and there's quite a melancholy feeling about that, that the light will actually outlast the figures." (Celia Paul on Goya, from "A Conversation with Celia Paul" by The Huntington on Youtube)

“The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room, not try to be or do anything whatever.” May Sarton


// Light emerging //

The print of Francisco Goya's Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zúñiga (1787-88), also known as the "Red Boy", has been on our bathroom wall for the past year or so, and I love seeing it every day. It provokes a feeling similar to the visceral reaction I have to the figures in  Diego Velázquez's Las Meninas, and Celia Paul's words come close to describing it. The little boy died a few years after this portrait was painted, at the age of eight. 

Although this portrait was a commission, it reveals a tender touch and humanity that Goya's other sitters of nobility would not necessarily have been conferred with. There are various interpretations of the symbolism Goya employed and the influence of both Enlightenment and Romanticism that can be found in his work from this phase. Some argue that the portrait contrasts the innocence of childhood with the evils of the world - the latter represented by the animals in their slightly disturbing configuration: the magpie on a leash; the expression on the cats' faces; the caged finches. However, the animals may also simply have been included as the boy's beloved pets, and perhaps as a supporting cast to the ephemeral nature of youth captured in Manuel's features.

Above all, it is the spectral light that keeps haunting me (also one of the reasons I love Celia Paul's work so much). And although nobody could have foreseen the child's fate, the portrait seems strangely prescient: the lost look on his face set against the opulence of his clothing is poignant, and he appears almost as a ghost, his family's nobility and wealth no guarantee against an early demise.


// Wandering light //

The low winter sun has been throwing unexpected patches of light on the surfaces of the rooms, triggering glints on gold frames and other shiny objects, and one morning I caught a moment when its brightness highlighted the diffuse light I had painted on the horizon of a seascape. When I photographed the Red Boy, the window beside the print caused dots of light to appear around it. Observing the movement of light has become a meditation in itself and a starting point for extended daydreaming.


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