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Find Yourself Face to Face

Veiled Lady
Raffaelo Monti, Italian, <I>Veiled Lady</I>, c. 1860, marble
zoom Raffaelo Monti, Italian, Veiled Lady, c. 1860, marble


When you look at this sculpture from a distance, you believe you are seeing a woman's face through a thin fabric veil. It is all an illusion. You are in fact looking at solid marble. With this piece of trompe l'oeil (tromp-LOY)-French for "fool the eye"-Raffaelo Monti makes you think you can see through stone.

How has he done this? Monti was a keen and careful observer and a master with his chisel and mallet, the tools of a stone carver. He also knew a few tricks. For example, the top of the head and the shoulders are polished smooth, to reflect light. But where the veil falls across the face, the marble is less polished. It reflects less light, suggesting the texture of fabric.

Veiled ladies were Monti's specialty. His workshop produced many sculptures like this one. They were extremely popular at a time when more and more people could afford to buy art for their homes. Other artists copied Monti's technique, but few created such convincing illusions.

Who exactly is this woman? What do we know about her from this sculpture? It is easy to think she must be very beautiful. The veil reveals the curve of a delicate brow. It drapes over the bridge of a dainty nose. But the veiled lady will always remain a mystery, teasing us with what we cannot know.