The mystery element in all this is freshness


I didn’t know until a friend told me that if you squeeze a dried bunch of lavender the tickly sharp scent is released all over again. Pips that fall away can be gathered and bundled into sachets, squeezed again months later, and your head aches with memories you’ve not even recalled till now, the scent as piercingly fine as at the beginning. Certain pictures release the same kind of charge. The soft, glowing languor of Watteau’s group of watchmen in The Portal of Valenciennes in the Frick; the gusting dread in the Met’s picture by Millet (untypical for him) of wild turkeys in an autumn windstorm; the Manet in the Barnes of sailors tarring a boat: the paint doesn’t look like torch-fire, it is torch-fire, and the boat under repair is the picture we’re looking at right now being painted and repainted. But one I’ve lived with longest, the one that has watched me over the arc of many years, is a small self-portrait Tintoretto made at the age of twenty-three that hangs in Philadelphia. I saw it when I was twenty years old, and I only recently realized how I’ve clung to its presence as I’ve gone about the work of making my life. It’s always the same but keeps changing up on me. I never could resist the picture’s brash daring—his over-the-shoulder stare says: Just watch what I can do.

more from W. S. Di Piero at Threepenny Review here.