In the United States September 9th was Grandparents Day. The event passed without fanfare; I wasn’t aware of it until today. Mrs. Chatterbox and I aren’t grandparents yet but we haven’t given up hope. In the meantime, I’d like to share an interesting painting with you.
A few years ago Mrs. C. and I were in Paris.While walking through the endless galleries of the Louvre, Mrs. C. felt the call of nature and headed off to find the ladies’ room. I waited for her in a nearby gallery where I noticed this painting by Ghirlandaio (Gear-land-eye-o). Like so many of the paintings in the Louvre, I’d seen this one reproduced in art books. Quite frankly, I never thought much of it, but I was stuck waiting for my wife to return and decided to take a closer look.
Ghirlandaio is not a household name; his claim to fame comes mostly from being one of Michelangelo’s teachers. This modest painting from 1490, An Old Man and his Grandson, was painted on wood with tempera. Tempera, popular before the invention of oil paint, was made from ground pigment mixed with egg yolk. It’s difficult to work with but the paint sticks very well to a surface, as anyone who has ever tried to scrape a dried egg from a plate can tell you. Like so many paintings from the Renaissance, the title of this work is based solely on the subject matter, and the figures certainly appear to be grandfather and grandson.
As I waited for Mrs. C, my attention turned to the grandfather’s misshapen nose. What the hell is going on with it? Is that a carbuncle? Leprosy? Rinophyma? Why would anyone allow themselves to be painted this way? But the grandson clearly doesn’t see the monstrous affliction. His eyes see only kindness and virtue, the man behind the deformity. He places his doll-like hand on his grandfather’s chest in a gesture of unadulterated love. I hope that one day a grandchild of mine will look at me this way.
Today I treasure my moment standing before this manifestation of pure love. And I have my wife’s weak bladder to thank for it.