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The Last Look of John Donne

Marsden Hartley occasionally painted imaginary portraits of historical persons such as this one of John Donne, the seventeenth-century English poet and Dean of Saint Paul's Cathedral in London. The portrait is based on an engraved frontispiece for a collection of Donne's sermons, an image that, in turn, had its source in Donne's carved tomb effigy. The shrouded body is painted in blues and whites, cold colors evocative of death, and the striated pattern of folds recalls the hard, carved stone of Donne's tomb. Hartley's sensitivity to correspondences between verbal and visual imagery is evident in a line from his own poem about Donne: "In any case, if it is character / is wanted in a face / I would say--look at / John Donne, / that will suffice, / fierce passion turned to ice / and frozen light."


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