I wrote this in 2007 as part of an essay on silence for my coaching course. I am now completely hooked on Memling and have written a story based on his pictures; Portrait of The Artist’s Model as a Young Woman.
We’ve been walking around the museum for over 2 hours and now, this is the masterpiece: this is IT.
The virgin sits with the child on her knee, and St. Catherine, with her sword and wheel tucked part beneath her skirt, kneels beside her. The child places a ring on Catherine’s finger, not yet past the second knuckle, and there is a look passing between them. The child, serious, loving, concerned, thoughtful; Catherine, wondering what does this mean? And holding her breath with foreknowledge that it is not going to end well.
The same woman has been the model for virgin and Catherine, and St Barbara (who has her head resolutely in her book, like me waiting for a plane- if I do not think about this, it will not happen) and Salome, flinching away from the gift of the Baptist’s head.
But it is the look on Catherine’s face that keeps me gazing, walking backwards to the clear plastic chair because I can’t stand longer, and gaze some more.
So if it is possible to listen to a picture, that is what I am doing, and it is as though I can hear the thoughts of Herr Memling, thinking about the spaces and colours and the directness of one gaze and the furtiveness of another, there is so much going on:
on one side the four horseman of the apocalypse prancing about in a puddly landscape of drying sea that reflects the rainbow of heaven; on the other, the sassy bum of the executioner, who fancies his chances with Salome, who has shown herself to be less than chaste with that dance.
In the centre Catherine, her heart in disarray, one cuff down and one up, wilting slightly at the enormity of it all, the pulse in her throat almost visible.
Glorious… The museum is closing.…
Next day we come back as soon as the museum opens, and sit and gaze some more. The museum guard keeps a watchful eye on us, wondering if we are planning a heist. We sit for two hours almost speechless, pointing out details to each other with upraised hand and incoherent sub-vocal murmur, feeling as the medieval viewer of this picture must have felt, awed and silenced.
This is the silence of wonder, mine at Memling’s art, his at his creator, Catherine’s at fate.
Copyright Cherry Potts 2007-10