In the spirit of Node Your Homework, I've been combing through a sketchbook of mine, looking through the pages of overlapping scrawls and scratching for something legible enough to node. These are notes on various paintings scattered throughout the Detroit Institute of Arts, which I'll be using later for a research paper in Art History.

This page stuck out mostly because its sitting across from one of my particularly atrocious sketches of the painting its describing. Hey, what can I say, it was dark in there. I'll likely be noding up more of these when I find the time...

Portrait of a Woman, by Bernardino Luini
Italian, c. 1475-1532
Oil on Canvas

As the title suggests, this work is a detailed portrait of a young woman, wearing a common-looking red and orange dress and braids in her flowing brown hair, sitting before a darkened background. She appears to be leaning slightly forward, and turning toward the viewer from left profile, her eyes looking downward and somewhat forlorn.

As for the composition itself, Luini has taken such remarkable attention to detail that the fine brushstrokes are all but invisible. The use of chiaroscuro is incredible. The light and shade create dramatic contrasts, especially against the dark background, and lend an exact, almost photo-realistic texturing to her hair, skin and dress. The light appears to come from somewhere above her on the left, and seems to catch and sparkle in her hair, shining softly off of her smooth skin and casting delicate shadows beneath her chin and nose. The day I visited the Museum, the room itself was darkened for a special exhibit, but this portrait seemed to glow even in the dim light. More light techniques make a gold brooch inlaid with a semi-precious stone appear lustrous, while shading makes her shawl appear much coarser and heavier than the fabric of her dress.

The overall mood struck me as one of quiet dejection and sadness. The young woman's facial expression and posture, neither smiling nor even looking toward the viewer, leaves you with the impression that she is unhappy but not wanting to burden you with her problems. The dramatic lighting and dark backdrop to the scene only add to this pervasive mood.

I was unable to discover any information about the subject; her name, the premise for the painting, the exact date it was made, anything. At least from the way she's dressed, she doesn't look to be particularly wealthy. Likely, she was simply a hired model, or one of the artist's acquaintances. The reason for her solemn, cheerless expression may forever remain a mystery.