When painting lifts off into the ineffable, it’s hard to account, even internally, for what has taken place, much less why. You can stroll through one gallery after another, nodding at this and pausing at that, homing in more often than feels warranted on wall labels, frames, and other incidentals. But when you come across something like this painting by Giuseppe Maria Crespi (1665-1747), at the Museum of Fine Arts, you suddenly find your soul on the hook.
What has happened?
Honestly, I have no idea. When I look at the painting — which is not of a woman playing a lute, as the MFA’s title has it, but rather of a woman tuning a lute — I am conscious of many things at once. A very specific human presence, to begin with — a woman who, although her face is turned mostly away, feels in no way generic or obscured by false mystique.
Look at her lovely, knobbly ear that catches the light and the tensed, claw-like tendons of her strumming hand. These body parts may not convey much about her personality. But they say everything about her gorgeous, inimitable human presence. And what a contrast they make with her blood-flushed cheeks and face, which turns and tilts so far into shadow that her profile is almost lost.
Note, too, her dark, pulled-back hair — those few loose strands on top and at back so tenderly observed!
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