Brain Food #673

Pentimento

Thoughts of the day

There is a concept in art, particularly in painting, called ‘pentimento’. The word springs from Italian, and means to repent.

The term describes how an artist might make adjustments to existing work, or reuse the same canvas for something entirely different. These adjustments tend to reveal themselves later when, through the passing of time, previous layers of a painting start to make their appearance.

Pentimento in art is an act of repenting through repainting. Symbolically, it can have a deeper significance.

It can be about having the freedom to change your mind, reusing the same resources, building on the past instead of trying to erase it.

Of course, one cannot just paint over something and make it disappear forever. Like some past acts, late-night thoughts, or less commonly displayed aspects of our personality, they are still there, and might make their reappearance at some point in time. And so, a wiser choice would be to just accept these hidden layers as part of the whole, for what makes the whole so unique is much more than what is immediately visible.


The Blue Room by Pablo Picasso (left). Infrared scans of The Blue Room (right) reveal an entirely different painting underneath.

Madame X by John Singer Sargent caused a stir when it portrayed Madame Pierre Gautreau with one strap of her dress seductively hanging off her shoulder. The painting was then changed to give her a more ‘proper’ appearance.


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