By Quentin Massys

When I took an art class as a part of my core curriculum one semester, I didn’t think I would be as intrigued by the things I learned in that class. This particular painting was interesting yet mysterious. So I wrote about it… Her.

Quentin Massys painted “Grotesque Old Woman” in 1515. This piece of artwork was created as oil on wood and can now be viewed in the National Gallery in London, UK. Some sources have stated that this painting depicts the Ugly Duchess of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Others state that this is possibly a painting of Princess Margaret of Tyrol. Regardless of who this painting is intended to depict or be representative of, I find it to be a beautiful work of art. Massys’ use of color and detail bring life to this painting. The detailed lines in the face show the age of the woman in the picture. The rose she holds between her two fingers was said to be a gift for a man she fancied, but I don’t know how true that is either. The details Massys used even down to the finger nails is just flawless.

My first response to this painting was that it was different in that it wasn’t some beautiful figure like the Mona Lisa sitting to be painted, but a woman who has been labeled grotesque. Grotesque by one definition is relating to or typical of a style of art that mixes the realistic and the fantastic. I guess in a way I could see how Massys could have implied this woman to be grotesque. She does look somewhat misshapen in a strange or disturbing way – another definition of grotesque. But I would attribute that to her age. With time we all will grow old and most of us will get deep wrinkles like the woman in this picture does. I wouldn’t want to be considered grotesque though. I think that the use of this word as it relates to the painting is out of place. Yes, she is old, but I don’t think she is grotesque or ugly. I’m sure she doesn’t think that of herself either; I mean, who would?

When I look at my grandmother and see the woman she is, and think of the woman my great grandmother was before her death in 1996, I see them both as beautiful ageless figures. No amount of wrinkles or hanging skin will make me think of them as grotesque. Their age gives them wisdom. My grandmother tells me things all the time, even as an adult, that she does so out of love. I sometimes have a hard time understanding that, but I do try my best not to belittle her and what she says – even if I do so only to myself. I think Massys intended for his audience to see what the title of this painting suggests, a grotesque old woman, when first looking at it. Although, I also believe that he wanted us to look deeper and see more. He wanted for those who would view this work to look into the painting in depth and see something other than what the title suggested, not a grotesque old woman, but an ageless beauty.

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