The Osservanza Master

The Osservanza Master


In later paintings–
a Brueghel, a Dali–
a hill could also be a breast
grazed by clouds, the breast
of a woman lying on her back

facing heaven. But in this painting
by the Osservanza Master
(about whom nothing is known,
not even his real name)
the hill is just a hill

beneath an arch of cirrus,
although it swirls like cream
to a soft peak, although it hides
a distant church blushing in the dusk.
I love this painting,

no larger than a leaf
of notebook paper.
Its sharp thin brushstrokes
shiny as currycombed hair
drinking track-light.

And I love the story it tells:
Saint Anthony Abbot tempted
by a heap of gold. Stranger than any
hill transformed into a breast
is that the pile of gold has vanished!

Yet the Saint is still
so distinct you could lift him
off the panel. His hands cupped
like a calyx holding its flower
he gazes downward

at the damaged place
where the gold has been,
where now a small pink ghost lingers
like a kiss on the hillside.
But it’s hard to know if he’s still

surprised by the temptation
he’d once found at his feet,
or by the rabbit crouching there, forever
bearing a tree rooted in air.
Or is he simply amazed

that what he never had was taken away

Thank you for reading The Nation

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply-reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Throughout this critical election year and a time of media austerity and renewed campus activism and rising labor organizing, independent journalism that gets to the heart of the matter is more critical than ever before. Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to properly investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories into the hands of readers.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Ad Policy