Tuesday Critique: The Painting

Here’s something I just hammered out for a potential story.  I’m planning on making it a time travel.  Please let me know what you think!  🙂


Love at first sight always seemed a ridiculous concept to Mason Caro—till it happened to him.

Well, maybe it was still rather ridiculous, he amended, tilting his head to examine the painting from a different angle.  After all, the woman in question had been dead for five centuries.  

“This is really quite special.”  His voice, though hushed, echoed in the vaulted rafters of his studio in the Uffizi Gallery.  His eyes traced the brushstrokes with tender reverence, lingering over the exquisite shape of the woman’s small mouth, the haunting luminescence of her dark eyes.

“I thought you’d be excited about it.”  His colleague, Piero, moved in closer.  “What can you tell?”

Mason shook his head.  “Not a heck of a lot.  There’s no signature.  Even the subject is unnamed.  I don’t recognize the style.  I mean, it’s got a lot in common with other Renaissance painters around the turn of the 16th century—see the brushstrokes here?  I can’t tell for sure until we run some conclusive tests, but as for a preliminary guess?  I’d say this is the real thing.”

Piero broke out into a broad grin.  “I thought so.”

Mason couldn’t take his eyes from the woman in the portrait.  “Where did we get this?”  

“Some wealthy recluse just died.  Left it to the museum.”

“That’s amazing.  I mean, aside from a little damage in the lower corner, which I can fix no problem, it’s in perfect condition.  This kind of thing is unheard of.”

“So you don’t think it belongs to one of the known painters?”

“No.”  Mason raised a tentative finger to hover just over the woman’s chin.  “See here?  It’s a technique I’ve never seen in a Renaissance painting before.  I’d almost say it was a modern addition.”

Piero’s face fell.  “Then you think it’s a fake?”

Mason shook his head impatiently.  “No I told you.  It’s the real thing.  Bet you anything it’ll be dated in the 1480s.  I might have taken it for a Botticelli, but for that.”  He circled his finger around the odd bit.  “You see the same thing here and here.  But it was done at the same time as the rest of the painting, with the same paint.”

“You think we’ve found a new master?”

“Too early to say.”  Mason frowned, musing over the puzzle.  But the mystery woman’s eyes captured his attention.  It almost seemed as though she was looking at him across the ages, a sidelong glance through dark lashes and the veils of time.

“What about the girl?”

“Hmm?” He broke away from his reverie with a start.  “Oh.  I don’t know.  I’ve already cross-referenced the face with all the known portraits of the time.  This is someone new.  Judging by the quality of her clothing and the jewels, I’d guess she’s the wife or daughter of some kind of VIP—someone rich enough to commission the portrait.  It’s unusual for a portrait, though.  Usually we see formal portraits with the women modestly dressed, and this kind of dishabille is reserved for mythological works or studies.  But she’s clearly wearing contemporary garments, so we know she’s not meant to be Venus or the Virgin Mary.  Yet the hair down and unveiled, the, um . . .”  He circled his finger again, encompassing the open, unlaced neckline that revealed the delicate swell of her flesh.  

Piero laughed.  “In love, are we?”

Put like that, it did sound ridiculous.  Mason snorted.  “Yes,” he said sarcastically.  “Just waiting for you to go away so we can be alone together.”

Piero shook his head and turned away.  “Just tell me what you find out,” he called back over his shoulder.

Silence settled over the studio.  The Tuscan sunshine streamed in through the large windows, catching intricate swirls of dust motes.  But the painting sat in shadow, away from the damaging reach of ultraviolet light.  Mason leaned close, tilting the special light to better illuminate the work—close enough to smell the slightly rancid tang of very old oil paint.  

“Who are you?” he asked the woman.

She stared back at him, eyes large and innocent, hinting at depths of mystery he could not begin to plumb.  

With a sigh, he bent to his examination.  “Sorry about this.”  He picked up a probe and very gently flaked some of the paint from the edge of the canvas into a petrie dish.  “I’ll be as gentle as I can.”

He was talking to her now.  Shaking his head, he ignored the limpid gaze that watched him work, and forced his mind on the task at hand.

“She’s just a painting,” he muttered.  

But his eyes involuntarily lifted to meet hers again, and he had the distinct impression that she was more—so much more than just a painting.


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