March 6th, 2003

Never What They Seem

 A Friendship II

Dear Jack:

I know you love riddles, puzzles. So here's something for you to chew on. What do you think and feel when you look at these two pictures? What kind of story do they tell? I mean, beyond the obvious.

I encountered them yesterday when I was trying to put my chaotic picture files back into order. Don't ask me why, but they reminded me of my visit to the old convent near Ischia Ponte, and those dark, soot-stained frescoes of saints that hang in a small chapel. In the paintings are many layers of meaning. An inpenetrable mystery, especially if like me you're largely ignorant of Christian iconography.

Things never are what they seem, eh?

 A Friendship

It's no accident that the convent's chapel is full of female saints, since the frescoes were commissioned in the 16th century by Costanza d' Avalos, Vittoria Colonna's aunt. Now, as you know, Vittoria and Costanza were tight. Whispering conspirators. They were able to move freely in a patriarchal society because they kept their subversions allegorial and metaphorical, beyond the understanding of their literal-minded masters.

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