Pisanello: Portrait of a Princess.

This is one of those paintings whose every detail looks to have been chiseled into stone. I don’t find it a cold painting at all, but there’s not a hint of improvisation to be found, and nothing really moves except the odd butterfly, perhaps. The intricate flowers and the embroidery of the over-gown could be from Netherlandish painting of the period, and the ribbons in the princess’ hair and the lines in her garment - they’ve been painted with a carefulness and patience that heightens the impression the woman is already giving off, as she stares distractedly at nothing, of langourous chastity. The woman’s head and the dark bushes behind it form an intense contrast - I find my attention always gravitating toward those hard contours of her profile. But there’s also a contrast between stoniness and leafiness; despite its controlled arrangement of forms, there’s something about that bush and all the impossibly varried flowers growing out of it that makes it look as if it had a life of its own. And it’s possible to start to see the princess, whose gaze is inward if it isn’t blank, as the true negative space, the static center of all that growth, as if we’re looking at a cutaway of a woman overgrown, left to go privately and elaborately to seed.

Saint Passionate


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