The underside of shiny

I have seen paradise—or, at least, pieces of paradise—and I didn’t even have to leave Seattle. Seattle and I love each other, so that’s actually not uncommon. I find paradise in the blues of the bay, in the grays of the rain, in the multi-hued pigeons in the plazas. Yesterday’s pieces of the promised land were gilded bronze panels from Florence, portions of didactic cathedral doors. These doors are known as The Gates of Paradise, and the Seattle Art Museum is one of the few places to see these restored panels before they go home to live in situ.

I would love to travel more, so I revel in the opportunity to have new art come to me. Not only are the gilded panels pretty, but each one tells a whole Old Testament story in a space slightly smaller than one yard square. It’s a visual storytelling technique that would transfer well to graphic novels, and I’m itching to design my own panel. I’d probably veer away from the Bible, but each artist picks his own subject. Macbeth, anyone? Or should I illustrate one of my own poems?

I could give you all the details here—the fresh uses of perspective; the life of the artist, Lorenzo Ghiberti; the amazing depths and shallows in the carving. I think I’ll send you to the references for that. I write to tease—I want to entice you to explore.

I waited on line for an hour to see the exhibit—so many dedicated art lovers in one place! It was inspiring. Also inspiring—the panels are showcased in clear boxes, and you can see the back, with the traces of construction still visible. There are channels where the metal flowed. It isn’t as pretty as the front—but one could not exist without the other. We forget the underneath when we can only see the good side, and I need that reminder. I’m glad I got a deeper view into the work. It makes me wish the museum would display all the paintings backwards for a few days. I want to know what’s back there, so I can appreciate it all.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
9. Go out and find your own piece of paradise. Appreciate the good side, but think about what’s underneath. Appreciate that too. If you are in Seattle, might I suggest The Gates of Paradise?


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