Pulling Our Leg

“Mary Magdalene” by Orsola Maddalena Caccia (1620-30) @ By Her Hand

At first, this strikes the viewer as yet another depiction of a Biblical figure at a time when that was all the rage. Then, you see her face, with a look as difficult to pin an adjective on as Mona Lisa’s smile.

Then, if you look long enough, you notice her legs …

The DIA exhibit’s supplemental audio tour spent a substantial amount of time discussing the apparent “third leg” in this painting. In particular, the reasons why Caccia may have failed to correctly depict the bottom half of Mary’s physique. Such suppositions as “she was never trained to properly create the female form” and “the focus is more on the upper half and her expression anyway”.

I see it differently.

As a hobbyist photographer, one of the first things I learned about taking a dramatic shot is to find an element that leads the viewer in, and capitalize on it. Say you want to shoot a bridge – angle your lens so the ground directly leads to where the person gazing at the photo is standing.

Claude Monet, among others, commonly used this tactic in his paintings, standing in the middle of the road and having said road lead directly down the center, so we feel like we are right there.

Such is my theory on what Caccia is doing here. That so-called third leg, is not her leg at all. It’s the viewer.

I’ll leave it to you to decide what part of the viewer.

I know what my theory is.

Shot on Pixel 6 Pro.

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