For most of human history, people used to write letters to talk to someone who was not immediately present. They’d frown, murmur the words slowly appearing on a sheet of paper in front of them, gnaw at their quill, agonise over synonyms, and smile at the postscript. Today, there’s no need to describe the beautiful sunset you’re witnessing: it can be snapped and twittered before the sun sets down.
There’s no need to think while talking to the other “party”. Eavesdropping on phone conversations is a sure way to join a local chapter of the Reverse Darwinism Club (the fraternity of people who believe other people are getting dumber with each passing day).
Surprisingly, very few artists have considered this potentially rich theme as worthy of immortality. Most of them must have thought there was plenty of time to tackle letter-writing, but it skipped the “endangered species” stage and went fossil at cyberspeed.
Sculptors were especially disrespectful of writing. Think of monuments to famous writers: even they never write anything. They may hold a book, but their eyes would be haughtily scanning the horizon in search of the scriptwriters who adapted their books for the movies.
The two ladies above are 150 years apart. One is writing a letter (Milano, Italy), and the other is talking on the phone (Baku, Azerbaijan). If we imagine their dialogue, I guess, it could sound like this:
“Dear Bronze Girl”
“I wonder if you feel vulnerable, standing there bare-navelled, in a Muslim city where a local girl who would dare to expose her body in such a way risks rape, or stoning, or both”
“What? Come again, with shorter thoughts this time”
“I praise your determination to promote the values of independence among local women, but I am sorely concerned for your wellbeing and structural integrity. I pray you are not broken”.
“What? Have you lost your marbles? I can’t get a thing you’re saying! Call me back, there’s a tourist feeling my bottom! Bye!”
And indeed, there is a tourist:
If you’ve ever needed a proof that living men can be dumber than bronze statues, there you are.
Even a cursory comparison of the two statues shows that the letter-writing marble girl is a product of creativity and skill, unlike its bronze counterpart that just took a lot of metal to be cast. The phone girl is there for tourists to feel her bottom and tits (when no one is watching). Nothing can be said in her defence besides her being an easy-to-remember meeting point.
The marble girl is a reminder of what we feel about our own letters and people we want to connect with.
The face of the girl looks serene, but the sculptor (Giovanni Spertini) left us a clue about her concentration in her left foot:
Romantic letters to her beau
Twist both her mind and little toe.
Before I leave this lady to celebrate her artistic victory over the Baku girl, let’s enjoy some of her elegant features. Her delicate shirt is hiding and exposing her body at the same time in such an erotic way that some observers question the statue’s decency saying she’d better be a “simple nude”.
She doesn’t care about decency or indecency in the safety of her bedroom, I guess, but her sexuality comes through regardless.
The lace is so good, it is worth a close-up.
If I could steal just this bit of the statue, I would.
Yet, the marble girl is not may favourite letter-writing sculpture.
The top of my list belongs to this Indian girl, made about a thousand years ago:
I am not sure a European mind at the time could hold on to the Girl playing Ball with any degree of sanity:
I’ve seen a lot of nudes, both painted and sculpted, but this almond-eyed Goddess of the Transition of the Potential Energy of the Body into the Kinetic Energy of the Ball still gives me goosebumps (her name is a single word in Hindu). She’s not writing a letter, I know, but she can send you a ball.
If you know a sculpture showing someone writing something, please, drop me a link in the comments!