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This caught my eye, not because it’s an example of egregiousness, nor again because it’s so particularly fine, but because I have one.

Mine belonged to my grandmother. Her house was full of things which I was allowed to handle in ritual fashion: the decomposing china-and-kid doll enshrined in the linen press upstairs, which I was permitted to hold on my lap for five minutes every visit; the upright piano whose yellowed keys emitted not notes so much as moans; the illustrated dictionary with its glossy pages displaying specimens of gemstones and insecta; and the wooden triptych, almost identical to the one on eBay, which I would take down from the shelf and open and shut, fascinated that there could be such a thing in the world as a picture with doors, with doorknobs.

I don’t know where the triptych came from. My best guess is that my great-grandmother, who travelled, brought it home from somewhere, but I don’t know where. When, in the mid-1930s, newly widowed, she moved in with my grandparents — requiring first that their house, low and modest and dating probably from the 1850s, be remodeled in the style of Mount Vernon in order to accommodate her — she brought with her a host of souvenirs which continued to rattle around the house decades after her death.

There were Mexican cloth dolls and little jointed porcelain Chinese-boy dolls, one with a real-hair queue glued to his bald head; there was also, less explicably in a Methodist household, a large porcelain nun doll in a decaying black habit, a rosary at her waist. All these things surprised and delighted me. I was willing to go upstairs alone, even, and open up the linen press — don’t ask me why these things lived in the linen press — to see what was there. All this spoor of travel interested me, too, because in my lifetime my grandparents themselves hardly ever went anywhere. In the spring, when wrens built their nest in the front grille of the Plymouth, they didn’t even go to church.

After my grandmother’s death, an assortment of family relics wound up with me: a battered drop-leaf walnut table, The Poetical Works of both Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in crumbling leather, the Chinese boys and the nun doll, her habit restored by my mother’s second-grade teacher, who had to be shown a picture of a nun because she’d never seen one, and the little triptych. It stands right now on my mantel, surrounded by other, larger icons. While they represent, unambiguously, windows into heaven, the triptych filters that light through the wavy glass of the tall landing windows, the heady sun stained blue and amber by the depression-glass vases on the window shelves, and spiralled with floating dust. There are the saints in light, and then there are the homelier people I pray for, and miss, and long to see again; for them I keep the doors open.

On a purely sentimental basis, and because this is an art object which an ordinary person could afford to buy:
[Rating: 96 out of 100]

PS: I tried to find a good close-up picture of my own triptych, but couldn’t. The best I could do was this post from my old blog, with photos taken last summer, right after our move.
The house in general looks far more lived-in now than it does in these pictures; every time Jody calls me on the telephone, he remarks that it sounds as though the Slaughter of the Innocents is taking place in the background (“What noise?” I always say). On a normal day, my house looks much more like the sort of place in which that kind of activity would occur than these images suggest.

Anyway, you can see the triptych in its natural habitat on the mantel ledge, with the other icons and things. It’s the little gold — well, it’s the only triptych in the photo, so obviously you’ll know which one it is. The central image is a different Virgin and Child from the one in the eBay triptych, but otherwise they’re identical.

UPDATE: The gilt-and-gesso triptych on eBay has been sold, but if you click the link, you’ll see lots of others. Nothing really like the one I have, alas, but there are still plenty of lovely threefold icon-y things looking for homes.

More on: Art

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