Lucky is the man who finds himself in the vicinity of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street with an hour to kill, say before meeting his younger son for lunch at their favorite dim sum place on East Wacker Drive.
Can there be anything more indulgent than to wander into this palace of masterpieces, without goal or plan, stumbling from treasure to treasure, waiting for something to catch your eye? Because something always does.
|Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago|
I knew the story, and, seeing her across the room, practically called out her name—"Judith!"—the way one does when recognizing an old friend, hurrying over to say hello and contemplate the painting afresh. What struck me this time was her expression, the way she looks at her powerful arm, her hand clutching that sword. A kind of numb amazement, as if she can't quite believe what she's just done and is capable of doing again.
The heroine was a popular Renaissance subject, the placard tells us: "The dangerous power of women was a recurrent and ironic theme in the art of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance in northern Europe."
Women's power is no longer seen as dangerous. Just the opposite. It is latent, unseen, ignored, at least in the United States, as men across the country, aided, as always, by female confederates gulled to work against their own best interests, conspire to force all women back to the distaff and the loom by revoking their rights to control their own bodies and reproductive choices. They have gotten as far as they have, I believe, because women generally have been pre-occupied enjoying the fruits of their hard-won freedoms, assumed they are permanent, and are not focused seriously enough on the real possibility that our country will indeed march back into the past, where they bore babies based on the dictates of their menfolk, or the vagaries of fate.
It won't. Women, like Judith, will find their power, late but in time. It has to happen and when it does, I imagine it will be accompanied by the same kind of wonder, almost awe, at the realization of what they've done, what they now can do. The understanding that they had this power all along, literally in their own hands.