|Rembrandt, c. 1629 Indianapolis Museum of Art|
There's a room in the IMA that's designed like a library: three walls are lined with books, and there are leather reading chairs, and the requisite globe and table for a toddy. The room is intimate and entirely devoted to self-portraits. This early self-portrait by Rembrandt presides. It's been through the Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt ringer and I think emerged as Rembrandt - and yes, we could have an entire conversation about authentic laughter and artificial fire and their inverses. But I love this painting because it hovers right before (or right after?) laughter. Let's say it's the moment before. It's this beautiful moment of dawning realization: the joke becoming funny, the spark igniting the flame. There are multiple other ways to interpret the fabulously ambivalent expression on his face: hesitation, wonder, surprise - but I am turning to the moment before laughter this time, perhaps to think precisely of that hesitant pause before laughter breaks out in a room, the bated breath before the fire takes.
|4th image of the Gawain mss.|
2513þe kyng comfortez þe kny3t and alle þe court als
2514la3en loude þerat and luflyly acorden
"The king comforted the knight, and all the court laughed loudly, and all agreed..." (a much better translation exists, but it's at the office). Gawain is seething in shame just before this moment, just mortified at all that's happened. And that the court's response is laughter -- warm, enveloping, forgiving laughter (as they all pledge to wear a green band in solidarity with Gawain) -- took the students by surprise. Maybe I'm being naïve, maybe it's mocking laughter - but it doesn't feel that way. It has that gladness and relief - of the end of the game, of the warmth of recognition. The image doesn't re-present the laughter, it sets up the joke - the return of the errant knight, the welcome of the gathered court, the kindling of shared mirth.