The heroine of the painting


I was at the National Gallery in London last week and I was really drawn to look intently at this painting by Cezanne, An old woman with a rosary.  The inscription said that the dark hues reflect the psychologically bleak outlook of a woman who has come to old age and whose (only) comfort is a rosary.

I disagree!

Yes, the painting is of an old woman.  But that is precisely it! An old woman is the heroine of this painting – not a young beauty, not a queen nor an aristocrat, and not even Cezanne’s young bathers all chunky and blurred [hanging on the same wall].  Precisely this woman, who has travelled through time, whose adventures have left their mark on her – this very woman is the subject of this painting.

Look at her hands – yes, threading the rosary through her fingers, a reminder of that other once Young Woman who bore that Special Child; that Woman who also grew old and was marked, like many other mothers, with the tragedy and joy of their children.  Kinship through the millennia, woman to woman, in a long line of women before time and counting began.

Look how strong her hands are!  Not scrawny and bony and veiny, but full and sturdy – hands that have loved and nurtured and provided, and that do that still.  And the light falls on those hands – look here, right here.

Yet glowing more, is her face: even though her eyes seem almost unseeing, there is a glimmer of an inner light, an inner vision – a strength that sustains her, and through her enriches others.  She is a wellspring of true wisdom and fortitude.

And the faint smile crossing her lips perhaps invites us to look beyond externals and what is most fleeting, to depth and grace welling up from within.

This woman is to be honoured.  She is worthy of being painted.  The hidden treasure in our midst.


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