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Opinion: How I met the girl


It was another cold, overcast day in January. There was only a week left before the Rembrandt exhibit at the Nevada Museum of Art would close, and I hadn’t been to see it yet. There was also going to be a Raphael painting that had just been put on display, but I really wanted to see the Rembrandt’s.

Hanging ’round
Downtown by myself
And I had so much time…*

It looked like the museum was having a good turn-out, but it wasn’t overly crowded. There was only one guy in front of me in the ticket line. Up on the 3rd floor, there were 7 or 8 walls covered with Rembrandt’s etchings. They were made using a pretty complex process involving copper plates and acid baths. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t explain the process more.

What was really good was they had quite a number of his early attempts. Many of them are fairly crude and don’t show a lot of detail. They’re also very small. They show mostly street scenes; beggars, and washer women, and rat poison salesmen. As you move around the room the etchings get better, and larger, and more complicated. Even Rembrandt had to practice. In places they have a series of etchings all showing different versions of the same picture. Rembrandt was very experimental, even in depicting biblical scenes.

After an hour or so, I started wandering the hallways. I hadn’t been to the museum in quite a while, so I took advantage of a wandering-opportunity. On the 2nd floor, I turned a corner…

and there she was…*

But, sorry fella’s, this was no “Disco lemonade” here. This gal’s the real deal; La Donna Velata. It just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it.

I stood in the doorway looking into the small, dark room. The only light shining, was shining on her. Her brown eyes peering over the heads of a small group of people standing in front of her. Two beefy security guys, strategically located, were looking at me. They didn’t smile. The people were whispering to each other in reverential tones. I entered the chamber as one about to be knighted by the queen. The only thing missing was a chorus of angels.

She is surrounded by an ornate, golden frame from the 17th century; a rarity in itself. Dressed in fine silks, with a simple necklace of precious stones, there is no gaudy display of wealth from her. Of course, the important thing about her is her smile. It’s not so much a happy smile, though she appears happy, but one of inner peace.

Nobody knows who she was. Some speculate that she was Raphael’s mistress. Others say that she may have only existed in the mind of the young painter. I tend to go with the latter. La Donna Velata seems to be a kind of 16th century version of the nice girl-next-door, the kind of girl a young mis-fit painter would take home to meet his parents as a way of reassuring them that it was all going to work out ok. In the modern world, she would be the one who sits up straight in class, always has her homework done on time and with neat penmanship too.

After viewing the painting and reading some of it’s history, I knew that my wandering opportunity was over. Nothing I would see after La Donna Velata would compare, so I headed back out into the gray afternoon. Whether or not you’ve ever been to Italy and seen portraits by the thousands, you owe it to yourself to see this one. Oh yeah, and this is the last week for Rembrandt too.

*There She Was by Marcy’s Playground