The first time this happened to me I was at the Met in New York. They had an exhibition of Rembrandts, I think there were about twelve of his portraits in one huge room. Undivided by walls, the sitters faced each other in silent agreement of the gravity of their circumstances.
Their faces were inscrutable or open, bemused or serious, their clothes opulent or humble, their hands fleshy or slender, but all glowed with life and blood from within. Their expressions were somber or light, and all seemed about to speak solemnly or crack a joke. There was a knowingness, a universality I'd never experienced before in an artist's oeuvre and somehow it all became too much as I gazed in awe at how light flowed through the translucent flesh on one sitter's fingers. I could feel my eyes begin to prickle, then sting, and soon enough, tears were rolling down my cheeks unconcerned for how others might perceive me.
My daughter who was eight at the time, began tugging on my sleeve. I suddenly felt so overwhelmed I had to sit down and so I quickly left the gallery and found a bench. Morgan sat very close to me and looked into my eyes, very concerned for my well-being.
"What's wrong, Mama?" She asked.
"They're just so beautiful," I replied. I think she understood.
Whenever I see Rembrandts now, I gird my loins for the emotional firestorm that usually ensues, so when I entered the room at the Mauritshuis where I knew they were hanging, I was prepared. Yet still I felt the familiar prickle at the corner of my eyes so in order to avoid weeping outright, I left the small gallery and sought out the Vermeer, thinking I'd be calmer in the face of this artist's work.
Instead, when I saw her, the stinging at the corner of my eyes became irresistible and I couldn't help myself and began crying uncontrollably. (Even now, as I write this days later, I am beginning to weep.)
She struck me from across the room as alive, as more than alive. She glowed like the full moon. She spoke to me wordlessly, not in a human language but in the language of the eyes. She said something like, "Look at me, I existed. I was real, I was loved. I lived and see? Never grew old or infirm or died. I am eternal. I am what it means to be human"
I was gobsmacked.
She is perfection. She is the work of a careful, slow and deliberate person of meticulous methods and infinite patience possessed of a reverent hand. He loved her. Everything is perfection.
And now, days later, I realize that the emotion she invokes in me is similar to the one I felt when I first gazed at my newborn daughter. She was perfection, she was beautiful, she was precious, unique, delicate and priceless. I needed to protect her at all costs. I revered her, I loved her.
And I love this painting. I am awed by the hand that created her, the reverence for the subject and act of painting and the mastery of technique that makes her glow.
I am intrigued by her expression, both playful and knowing. She is precious, unique in all the world. I would protect her at all costs. She is perfection.