Today I visited this Flemish Reliquary Bust, ca. 1510. I've always loved her beauty and serenity. She's carved from wood, with polychrome paint and gilding enlivening her features: rouged cheeks and red lips, sorrowful green eyes, golden tresses braided and coiled up beneath her headdress. She has a bit of an under-bite, giving her almost a double-chin, and her mouth puckers out like a duck bill.
She's incredibly life-like even five hundred years later, although somewhat stiff in that medieval-early-Renaissance way. The pigment on her skin is full of tiny cracks, with major losses on her nose and chin, but they don't detract from her naturalism. They may even enhance it. A security officer said she was "creepy," and the fact that she's a reliquary probably only adds to that. Was something of significance hidden inside this bust? Perhaps a former possession of the sitter, or a body part? I don't know. Reliquaries are generally damn creepy, but I love her. She's very narrow from the side -- almost two-dimensional -- but so beautiful from front and back. Her headpiece is almost like a helmet, and her Rapunzel hair seems to go on forever.
There she rests, day in and day out, gazing out at her medieval neighbors and passing visitors, yet clearly lost in a world and time of her own. One of the side effects of spending time in the galleries is interacting with the public. Mostly that's a good thing. I love hearing people's thoughts about the art they're seeing, however naive or emotional or philosophical. I love that they're coming to an art museum of their own volition (most of them), looking for some kind of enrichment or stimulation. I love being able to answer their random questions and connect with them about works of art made by our predecessors through the ages. I need to move toward the public side of museums. Being behind the scenes has its excitement, but the real turn-on is how art (or animals, history, or whatever subject) can connect you to your fellow human beings, both living and dead.