"Who was it, for example, who first described to us the Palace of Ship Owners in Genoa? Or is it possibly a memory of my own from later, when as an adult I entered that building and climbed the stone stairs to each new level? Because there is something about the image that I have held on to for all these years, as if it explains how we approach the future, or look back at the past. A person begins on the ground floor of the palace, looking at a few naive maps of local harbours, the neighbouring coasts; and then, as one climbs higher, from floor to floor, more and more recent maps chart the half-discovered islands, a possible continent. A pianist somewhere on the main level is playing Brahms. You hear it as you ascend, and you even look down into the central well where the music comes from. So there is Brahms, and paintings of vessels lurching newborn out of the docks in some prelude of a merchant's dream where anything could occur--an eventual wealth or a disastrous storm. There are no portraits of humans in the paintings that cover the walls of the first few levels. But then, arriving at the fourth level of the Palace of Ship Owners in Genoa, you find a gathering of Madonnas.
"...The thing with Madonnas is, they have that look on their faces--because they know He is going to die when young....Somewhere in the Madonna's given wisdom, she can see the finished map, the end of His life. No matter that the local girl the artist is using cannot attempt that knowledgeable look. Perhaps even the artist cannot portray it. So it is only we, the spectators, who can read that face as someone who knows the future. For what will become of her son is provided by history. The recognition of that woe comes from the viewer."
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