Looking up, I am caught unawares,
The vault of the dome soaring upwards
To its apex, and reminding me, amid
All the whispers and the reverence
That this is a place of learning, not faith.
We are there to see the beginning of drawing:
Metalpoint and charcoal, gall-nut tannin,
Copper sulphate and vellum, indigo dye
Got in Venice, bartered from the Ottomans.
Faint reds, heightenings with white chalk.
Swift marks in one, all life, seeking the right;
Then material, caught in melted wax
To stop the folds slipping, finely rendered.
That’s the how, the why’s a quite different thing:
Studies, yes – really, though, getting to know their stuff.
And it comes in the end, from the light of Venice
And the masculine lines of Florence,
To one ordinary young familiar woman
True as flesh itself, and like you or me
Likely to be in awe beneath the dome.
The picture referred to is:
Portrait of a Young woman in profile to the right, by Titian, circa 1510-1515
Black and white chalk on faded blue paper
I am not going to reproduce this picture because if you go to the magnificent British Museum exhibition of Renaissance Drawings (details here) you can see it yourself, and it is much better seen in real life.
NB This poem is a first draft: all recommendations for improvement most happily welcomed.