‘Who sees the human face correctly: the photographer, the mirror, or the painter?’ Pablo Picasso
We have moved our print of Henry Holiday’s
‘Dante and Beatrice’ – bought second hand
fifty years ago – from the window wall
of our eclectic bedroom to above
the bed, where it hangs now in its gilt, ornate,
retro-Victorian frame like an icon.
The bed faces the mantle piece, on which
is a Spanish mirror as large as the room’s
window. Its olive wood frame has flamenco
curves, its top adorned with bridal wreaths
of silk roses and rose buds and ribbons.
The morning after the hanging I wake
in expectation of seeing the famed
platonic lovers central in the pier glass,
though knowing they will be on the wrong side
of the Arno, which will be flowing upstream.
However, to my chagrin, this mirror
of long acquaintance is distorted
in its right hand corner like some fairground
feature. The poet and his preoccupied
muse, her forward friend, her hand maiden,
and – though possibly excluding its pigeons –
all of the manufactured magnificence
of Florence seem about to descend into a vortex.
Now, where the Holiday originally was,
is a print of Janet Bell’s ‘Low Tide
At Menai Bridge’ – a gift from our daughter
and her family for our fiftieth
wedding anniversary. Bell’s pastel
acrylics have replaced Holiday’s
Pre-Raphaelite oils – his love story
succeeded by her stylised landscape.
If I stand close to the mirror I can see
Janet Bell’s print far over to my left.
At the centre of her painting is Telford’s
suspension bridge – beyond is Snowdonia.
Bell’s picture does not show me – why should it? –
that even at low water the sea’s currents
whirl from north and south through the Menai Straits,
that separate the North Wales mainland
from the fecund isle of Anglesey,
and, at the flow, become a gyre, a maelstrom,
nor should Holiday’s tell me that this
particular Beatrice may not have been
Dante’s muse after all, any more than
this mirror with its Iberian
curvatures should declaim in song and dance
its own imperfections.
Dante & BeatriceHenry HolidayJanet BellMenai Straits