Head of an Old Woman

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Head of an Old Woman

circa 1778
Paintings
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 19 3/8 x 15 1/2 in. (49.21 x 39.37 cm)
Gift of MaryLou and George Boone (M.2010.46)
Currently on public view:
Ahmanson Building, floor 3 MAP IT
Ahmanson Building, floor 3

Since gallery displays may change often, please contact us before you visit to make certain this item is on view.

Curator Notes

LACMA commissioned poet Karen Holden to compose a response to this artwork. To hear her poem, Head of an Old Woman, press the play button below or scroll down to read a transcript.

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LACMA commissioned poet Karen Holden to compose a response to this artwork. To hear her poem, Head of an Old Woman, press the play button below or scroll down to read a transcript.



Head of an Old Woman
 

Transparent, translucent, opaque
This is how my life has gone, a blur
Of unknowing, dumb luck, mistakes

I never had a say, my narrow path cut
For me at birth and still, above me only
Pure, clean, space illuminates my eyes

Softens the planes of my face. What
You see: Girl. Woman. Old woman
Inside, without the mirror of your eyes

I stayed the same, only the frame
Changed. I used to be a family, but the
Men are gone. No more suckling, no

Huddling in winter’s depths around a fire
Sewing, darning, murmuring stories into
Each others’ tired ears, gone the days

Of labor and of love. Now I sit, waiting
To be captured by this artist who thinks
He knows my name, but I am hiding

In stark folds of linen at my neck, in
Scalding tea, a lover’s tender skin, slick
Blood of stillbirth, simple gesture a

Hand makes. From joy to rage, despair
Etched into places he cannot see, into
Things I have not done—read a book

Traveled to another city, birthed
Another woman, had my say
Arc of my life flattened across time

And space. Kitchen to bedroom
Hearth to field, father to husband
Husband to grace. Alone as dark looms

Light comes, transparent, translucent
Opaque. The little death sleep makes
No matter. All falls away with age

 

© 2014 Karen Holden

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History

A member of the great family of Bolognese painters, and a brother of the famous Gaetano, Ubaldo Gandolfi is an artist of particular distinction....
A member of the great family of Bolognese painters, and a brother of the famous Gaetano, Ubaldo Gandolfi is an artist of particular distinction. Trained in Bologna, in the academic tradition established by the Carracci more than a century before his birth, Ubaldo brought that tradition to its apotheosis at the eve of Neo-Classicism. Famous for the soft poetry of his large compositions (as can be seen in LACMA’s Selene and Endymion, circa 1770), Ubaldo also explored the possibilities offered by the direct study of models. Toward the end of his life, Ubaldo painted several studies of aging subjects, both male and female, of which the painting offered by MaryLou Boone is a particular remarkable example. Fully reproduced in both black and white and colors in the most recent book on the artist (Donatella Biagi Maino, 1990), this Head of an Old Woman has been considered a masterpiece by the artist since its appearance on the international art market in 1987. Its acquisition by LACMA completes a remarkable group of works by the Gandolfis: a painting and several drawings by Gaetano, the large and already mentioned painting by Ubaldo, as well as drawings and a sculpture. (J. Patrice Marandel, The Robert H. Ahmanson Chief Curator of European Art)
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