³³ A return to Milan
It appears stooped, and very pale. One is approaching from the back : a few steps, a glance sideways — it emerges, as if expanding the room’s coloured ribs. A few steps further, and suddenly, two bodies have appeared. I turn back and I see them, as if staggering.
I try to retrace my steps, now, try find the exact moment when their outlines have passed from stone to the human. I soon realise it is an impossible task. Hewed from every side, the single marble block appears to be reconfiguring itself at each glance, at each angle. Frontally, the body of the son is seen in full, the disjointed angle of his right leg is clear, and the mother is embracing him with her left arm, her left leg firm. An elaborately chiselled arm stands to the right of the braced figures. I move to the right, and the Virgin’s body has strengthened, affirmed in the marble base. I can see both faces more clearly, and within her headdress, the remnants of a lost visage. I move back to the other side of the group, and recognition has become difficult again. Christ’s right arm is now discernible up to the wrist and his right leg is shining. But his mother is blocked from view and even his face appears to be receding into the uncouth marble. It is all elongated, concave, struggling— perhaps as the bodies of the lost Battle of Cascina (and one also, unwillingly, thinks Pompeii).
During recent restoration work, it was ascertained that the artist had shifted the composition’s center of gravity backwards as the new figures were being carved out. The seemingly incongruous polished arm thus came to form an indispensable element in maintaining the whole structure’s stability. Meaning its inclusion was purposeful, and not only due to the artist’s death. Meaning ? Each answer is also tentative, groping its way slowly around the marble.