There are moments in life when a revelation will smack you in the face, take your breath away, and narrow your attention to a near finite focal point. You forget about the bills, feeding the cats, taking the trash out, clearing up the pile of laundry in your room, what time to get up for work tomorrow. Your focus, your mind, your soul all seems to direct their energy to that one moment and how it has and will immediately impact your life.
Portrait of a Bearded Man by Jacopo Bassano (c.1515-1592) is one of those paintings you just have to stop and take a moment to let sink in. Pictured is a middle aged fellow, possibly a monk, religious or hierarchical figure, who seems to be gazing off at something--or someone--which has deeply influenced his being. He appears well fed so one must assume he's not been painted to display the famished and with his black robes, he's clearly someone of influence. This is one of those paintings where digital copies found on the internet do it no justice whatsoever.
Not long ago, I had the chance to spend the afternoon at the J. Paul Getty museum in Los Angeles and this was one of the pieces that really caught my attention. Art is like a relief for my soul and while I am certainly no expert, I know how it makes me feel and how to express the evocation of emotions I receive from its many forms. In person, the eyes of the Bearded Man are much more sorrowful than they appear here and it moved me to the point where I could feel my own heart breaking. He seemed to be in the midst of emotionally accepting something was changing in his life and Bassano capture the moment with utter grace. Head tilted slightly to the left, eyes a gaze to nothing in particular or something very particular, he gives me the sense that what has occurred or has left him won't be coming back.
There is a theory that the left side of one's brain controls logical thinking, sequential integers, rationality, analysis, and objectivity. This same theory claims the right side controls random thought, intuitiveness, holistic thinking, synthesizing, subjectivity, and looking at wholes. In this sense, one could argue that his gaze going to the left could indicate he's rationally analyzing the facts, taking a moment to truly and subjectively reflect upon reality. On the hand, however, one could also argue that his gaze originates from the "right" thereby indicating he's emotionally pushing forward with how to perceive and accept what has occurred. Clearly, our lone figure is deep in contemplation and is experiencing something that is neither gleeful or horrid. He is somber, maybe even melancholy and to see him is both enlightening and poignant.