Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Finishing Touches to a Portrait

(Self-Portrait with a Cap, Open-Mouthed, 1630, one of
almost 90 self-portraits by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606-1669,
Dutch painter, printmaker, and draughtsman)

This poem is not strictly an example of exphrasis because it does not refer to any specific artist or portrait. Its details, however, help us to understand portraiture — the mysterious way an artist captures on canvas or paper the core of a person’s spirit and character.


The artist bends to the canvas
to see what is to be seen
close by, withdraws to a distance,
brushes bouqueted in fist.
The head turns this way, that,
knowledge sweet in the eyes.
Wriggling paint on the palette
predicts the brightness
with which she extols the
dejected figure, making
identity more voluble.
With brushtip dares to touch
already created eyes and mouth.
She paints at arm’s length,
wrist-length, finger-length,
and then retires to see
what must be seen from a distance.
Surely with the sight
of more than two eyes,
the agility of more
than ten fingers.

~ Etta Blum (1908-1981), American poet, writer, and translator of Yiddish

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