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In the spirit of Node Your Homework, I've been combing through a sketchbook of mine, looking through the pages of overlapping scrawls and scratching for something legible enough to node. These are notes on various paintings scattered throughout the Detroit Institute of Arts, which I'll be using later for a research paper in Art History.

This page stuck out mostly because its sitting across from one of my particularly atrocious sketches of the painting its describing. Hey, what can I say, it was dark in there. I'll likely be noding up more of these when I find the time...


Portrait of a Woman, by Bernardino Luini
Italian, c. 1475-1532
Oil on Canvas

As the title suggests, this work is a detailed portrait of a young woman, wearing a common-looking red and orange dress and braids in her flowing brown hair, sitting before a darkened background. She appears to be leaning slightly forward, and turning toward the viewer from left profile, her eyes looking downward and somewhat forlorn.

As for the composition itself, Luini has taken such remarkable attention to detail that the fine brushstrokes are all but invisible. The use of chiaroscuro is incredible. The light and shade create dramatic contrasts, especially against the dark background, and lend an exact, almost photo-realistic texturing to her hair, skin and dress. The light appears to come from somewhere above her on the left, and seems to catch and sparkle in her hair, shining softly off of her smooth skin and casting delicate shadows beneath her chin and nose. The day I visited the Museum, the room itself was darkened for a special exhibit, but this portrait seemed to glow even in the dim light. More light techniques make a gold brooch inlaid with a semi-precious stone appear lustrous, while shading makes her shawl appear much coarser and heavier than the fabric of her dress.

The overall mood struck me as one of quiet dejection and sadness. The young woman's facial expression and posture, neither smiling nor even looking toward the viewer, leaves you with the impression that she is unhappy but not wanting to burden you with her problems. The dramatic lighting and dark backdrop to the scene only add to this pervasive mood.

I was unable to discover any information about the subject; her name, the premise for the painting, the exact date it was made, anything. At least from the way she's dressed, she doesn't look to be particularly wealthy. Likely, she was simply a hired model, or one of the artist's acquaintances. The reason for her solemn, cheerless expression may forever remain a mystery.

Long ago, I can't remember exactly when but it was a very long time ago, I was, so to say, born. To be certain, it was so long ago that if memory serves me correctly the world did not look as it does today. Well for one, people dressed differently way back then, they ate different foods, they spoke a different language and the world was, let's just say, a different place. Of course, I myself don't speak. At least I don't speak the way you do. I've worn this same robe since the day I was born. And I've been, so to speak, rooted in this chair since the day I first came to know about the sun. You see, I am really a portrait. Of a woman. And mind you, The Artist never completed me. So parts of me were left unfinished. But that is my secret...

Now I could tell you endless stories about how I came to be here, about where I am from, about who painted me, who I really am, who The Artist was and so on. I was going to say those things would bore you, the finer details of my life, but I think that, as a lady it would be more appropriate to just say nothing. Ahh The Woman, the things she tells you when she doesn't say anything... And instead, to let my mystery speak for itself… But I do want to say this though:

This morning a man came by to see me, there was a pretty woman with him. The man was, as all good men do, trying to impress the woman with his sense of artistic feeling by explaining to Her what The Artist had meant by painting me in this fashion. Oh my, you should have listened to this man. If ever there was a cornier man who didn't know what he was talking about then that man must have stood before me this morning. He ranted on and on about how much I look like the dead mother of The Artist, he even speculated that perhaps I was even a self-portrait of The Artist, he speculated that the look on my face, this soft mysterious smile I portray as my eyes cast themselves deeply towards some spot in the distance as I look out the window of my bedroom, that this look is the look of woman who yearns for her distant lover. He did say though, and to this I agree, that the imperfection of the mole The Artist rendered on my face was a mark of almost Holy style. I suppose that The Artist had tried to copy The Venetian Masters after all, in that respect.

But aren't you listening to me at all? The man, The Artist, and the art student who came by yesterday, they all got it wrong. I never wanted to be just a portrait of a woman. I never wanted to be just a pretty face you'd fall in love with, I never wanted to be a portrait of The Most Beautiful Woman In The World...

I wanted to be the meaning of one.

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