Sunday, January 29, 2012

Old Masters, and fashion notes

A few weeks back I went to the Portland Art Museum to see the traveling masterpiece by Titian that is now on display. There are billboards of "La Bella" up all over town, and newspaper articles have claimed that she is the "elusive ideal of beauty." OK, that sounds worth checking out, no?

My impressions are as follows:
  • The museum did an amazing job of setting the tone of "this is a very important painting" with the signage and other related pomp. It was really fun watching folks walk into the special alcove where La Bella is displayed--wide-eyed, unsure what to do with their hands, unsure how to react to what is clearly supposed to be a Big Deal Painting. 
  • La Bella is a nice portrait. It doesn't strike me as especially superior to the other portraits in the European Art collection that are already on exhibit, though.   
  • All of the promos you see of La Bella in the billboard promos and the newspaper articles zoom in on her face--the pale skin, delicate arch of eyebrows, youthful smoothness of the face. But what those photos don't reveal to you is her outfit. La Bella is a cute young woman who is entirely overshadowed by her enormous poofy sleeves. Oh my goodness. We're talking the height of Renaissance decadence here: blue and gold wagon-wheels at the shoulder, that transform into extraordinary oxblood arms that are slashed open at regular intervals with glorious meringue-like poofs of the white silk lining pulled through to the surface. The girl herself is like a pale, soft-focus afterthought tacked on to an extraordinary riot of gleaming gold embroidery on mediculously-rendered velvets and silks that catch the light in beautiful ways with every wrinkle and crease. 
See the full glorious outfit! Granted, this is after the painting has had a good cleaning; the dissonance between La Bella's face and dress seems less jarring when she had hundreds of years of soot to balance the composition out.

Today is the last day to see La Bella at the Portland Art Museum. I might have to go back and get a better look at those amazing sleeves today, just because.

Oregon Live has a good article where you can read more about the history and context of La Bella. (They're less snarky than I am, hee hee.)


  1. See, *this* is why I never wear enormous poofy sleeves.

  2. Because then nobody would notice your pretty hair! Hee hee.