Here at the republic, we are BIG swooning fans of the art of our own time.  We love the wildness of it when it’s wild and we love the sweet plainness of it when it’s plain, and we love a lot of what is in between.  But every now and then,  you find yourself in front of a very very old picture made maybe 500 years ago, probably in a drafty stone room with lousy light, and you just turn into a wobbly raspberry.

How could anything so old, so freeeeking old, be so beautiful to us, we 21st century people who can see just about anything they want to see, at the speed of light, whenever they want to?  And we’d have to say that this is beautiful, not only by the standards of its time, but by our own standards, infused with photography, cinematography, celebrity, and attention deficit disorder.

How does something reach across 500 years and still have the capacity to to make your heart feel like it had a baby bird or two inside it?

There is no satisfying answer that we’ve seen anywhere.   Art, the real thing, keeps on doing what it does regardless of time and (sometimes) of place.  Apparently.  Maybe someone has explained all this and we missed it.  All we know is that these pictures make us stop and look and feel things inside our ribs, and afterwards, we can’t forget what we saw, and how we felt.

All of the above are painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio (b. 1449  d. 1494)  His frescos are in Florence, and you have to go there to see them because no one is going to bring them to you.  You have to go there.

Also in Florence, you can find paintings by Bronzino (1503 – 1572)

Looooooooook! This can just stop you in the middle of whatever you were doing, and might just forget your plans for the day.  When your brain kicks in, if it does, it could say:  look, isn’t this a particularly fine example of skill, a virtuoso performance by a fine hand, and excellent illustration. But surely not ART as we have learned to understand it?

To which the answer is simply:  ARE YOU INSANE?  If this is not art then why can’t you take your eyes off her, this 500 year old painted child?

Or this poised woman, perhaps the woman the child became.  Look at her.

And look at this woman, sadder, less confident, less pleased with things, but still holding your eyes.  What is she asking of us? What is she telling? who knows.  It probably wouldn’t help to ask Bronzino.

Farther north, painters of this time, and even earlier, were also producing lasting miracles.  This is by Rogier van der weyden (1399 – 1464)

And this.

And her, who now lives in Berlin and could have brought the wall down all by herself, we think.

OK, one more and we’ll stop:

The artist who painted this is Robert Campin, born 1375.  Just 636 years ago.  But there is nothing antique about this, nothing out of date, nothing old fashioned.  She is, to us at least, as fresh and stirring as anyone you’ll find in Vanity Fair or Vogue or up on the big screen at the VivaMax cineplex.

That it has survived at all is hard to believe.  That is has survived and still has the radiant energy to dazzle 21st century eyes is beyond explanation.

What have you seen lately that might have the same effect 500 years from now?

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