In developing these skills, one may reach a point at which one can recognize the cubist mess of a Picasso among the random abstract paintings of an amateur at a garage sale. However, it is better to start with more classical pieces in learning to appreciate the characteristics of true art. One such example is an oil on canvas painting executed by Emile-Jean-Horace Vernet in 1830 commonly referred to by its subject matter – Portrait of the Marchesa Cunegonda Misciattelli with Her Infant Son and His Nurse. By examining this painting, one can begin to pick out the elements of quality that make this work stand out as valuable whether it was shown in the sacred halls of a museum or in the darkened spaces of a corner coffee shop.
The painting, part of the Samuel H. Kress Collection at the University of Arizona’s Museum of Art in Tucson, depicts the image of a woman sitting at the keyboard of a piano or similar instrument. Although her hands are on the keys, presumably in action, her attention is focused over her right shoulder on the small baby held in the arms of another young woman standing behind the first woman’s chair. The baby, seemingly wearing nothing more than the blankets swaddled around him, is reaching out toward the woman in the chair while the woman holding him has captured one of his hands in hers. The nurse also has her attention fully focused on the baby, seemingly making him the primary focus of the image. However, other elements of the painting manage to pull the attention away from this tiny person to redistribute attention throughout the available space.
The distribution of attention begins with the fundamental form of the pyramid. Recognized as the most stable geometric shape, artists frequently use the pyramid form in their paintings to demonstrate stability and serenity – the concept that all things are in proper