A Call for Pentimenti
by Mary Pellegrino, CSJ -- LCWR President-Elect
It’s a fixture in many of our principle houses: a painting of two peasant farmers pausing from their work in a field, hands clasped in front of them, heads bowed, eyes cast downward toward a basket of potatoes. In 1859 French artist Jean-Francois Millet titled the scene “L’Angelus” and, for many, it’s become a beloved image of simple faith and gratitude.
Underneath the surface, however, can be found another image that drastically alters the painting’s tone, mood and meaning. X-rays often used to authenticate or restore old paintings, reveal that the basket of potatoes was originally a small coffin. This favorite scene of humble faith was originally a funeral scene, depicting what was surely the heart-rending burial of the peasant couple’s infant child. What a difference a brush stroke – or several – can make.
At some point Millet changed his mind about what he wanted or hoped for in this particular painting. In a gesture not uncommon to artists, he painted over the original image and refashioned the coffin into a basket of food. The “do-over” is an instance of “pentimento,” from the Italian “repentance” because at some point in the creative process the artist “repents” of an earlier choice.... Download newsletter below to read more