Pannini: Minerva [?] and the Laundrywomen

In the picture above Pannini has reversed and undone all the ways of ordering pictorial space and defining heroic narrative that his earlier depiction of St. Paul represents. It appears to be a later print; at least, it comes late in the sequence of prints published in the 1921 book of Pannini's prints and engravings, Pannini, pintore.



The picture's space was meant to be dominated by the huge statue of a woman underneath the vault. (See close-up to left.) She is standing erect and strong, big-boned, looking far into the distance, one arm cocked authoritatively on her hip and the other raised magisterially, as if she were administering or taking an oath. She may be Minerva, goddess of Truth and Wisdom, the Roman equivalent of Athena. Her standard emblems are a helmet and an owl, though neither seem present here. She appears to hold something in her upraised hand---impossible to tell.

















The space in the picture---and the future---belong not to this goddess but to certain anonymous laundrywomen at the center. (See detail below)

Their humor and their relaxed poses contain all the energy that the picture has that is not the energy of decay. Even the men nearby, a group that seems to include Pannini's two most frequent male types, a soldier and a turbaned prophet (to the center and right, respectively), are enthralled with what one of the standing laundrywomen is doing. And what is that? Laughing and whirling about (her voluminous skirt is in motion). She may also be improvising a comic tale about the statue and imitating it; she is laughing and pointing at it. Her female companion sprawls in comfort at her feet, twisting her feet together in pleasure for the dance or the tale or both. Perhaps everyone is captivated by the woman's parody of the statue's grand gesture: it now seems stiff and comic in their eyes, a prop from the absurd past.

The listening woman lying on her stomach has an at-home-anywhere casualness about her that is fascinating and that contrasts eloquently with the statue's rigor mortis. The cloth on her head is as impressive as any sibyl's or prophet's turban. And she shows off a forearm as strong as any soldier's, muscles formed by years of wringing laundry. Below her, a discarded slab from the past, filled with fantastical animals with writhing tails and wings.

Minerva's owl flies....

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