Gesture

Curator of Asian art Denise Leidy uses gesture as the key to unlocking narratives in works of art.

Loading

It's what I see first and how I begin to understand almost everything I see.

Play again
Connections Home

URL
Share
Sign Up

New Connections appear every Wednesday. Sign up for a reminder.

Captions On
/
  • Denise Leidy
    1280852
  • Buddhist goddess Ushnishavijaya (Zun Shengfomu)  |  Qing dynasty, late 17th–early 18th century  |  China  |  Gilt brass, lost-wax cast  |  Gilt brass, lost-wax cast (2007.75a, b)
    8421024
  • Shiva as Lord of Dance (Nataraja)  |  Chola period, ca. 11th century  |  Tamil Nadu, India  |  Copper alloy  |  Gift of R. H. Ellsworth Ltd., in honor of Susan Dillon, 1987 (1987.80.1)
    8171024
  • Mother Feeding Child  |  1898  |  Mary Cassatt (American)  |  Pastel on wove paper, mounted on canvas  |  From the Collection of James Stillman, Gift of Dr. Ernest G. Stilllman, 1922 (22.16.22)
    12791024
  • "Baby Figure"  |  12th–9th century b.c.  |  Mexico; Olmec  |  Ceramic, cinnabar, red ocher  |  The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1134)
    8591024
  • "Baby Figure"  |  12th–9th century b.c.  |  Mexico; Olmec  |  Ceramic, cinnabar, red ocher  |  The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1134)
    1280890
  • The Visitation  |  ca. 1310  |  Attributed to Master Heinrich of Constance  |  German; Made in Constance  |  Walnut, paint, gilding, rock-crystal cabochons  |  Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.724)
    8181024
  • The Visitation  |  ca. 1310  |  Attributed to Master Heinrich of Constance  |  German; Made in Constance  |  Walnut, paint, gilding, rock-crystal cabochons  |  Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.724)
    10891024
  • Two Lovers  |  1630; Safavid  |  Riza cAbbasi  |  Isfahan, Iran  |  Tempera and gilt paint on paper  |  Purchase, Francis M. Weld Gift, 1950 (50.164)
    6751024
  • Portrait of a Young Man  |  1530s  |  Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano) (Italian, Florentine)  |  Oil on wood  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.16)
    8071024
  • Otani Oniji II  |  dated 1794  |  Toshusai Sharaku (Japanese)  |  Polychrome woodcut print on paper  |  Henry L. Phillips Collection, Bequest of Henry L. Phillips, 1939 (JP2822)
    6961024
  • A Lady Playing the Tanpura  |  ca. 1735  |  India (Rajasthan, Kishangarh)  |  Ink, opaque and transparent watercolor, and gold on paper  |  Fletcher Fund, 1996 (1996.100.1)
    6461024
  • Krishna's Foster-Mother Yashoda with the Infant Krishna  |  Chola period, early 12th century  |  India (Tamil Nadu)  |  Copper alloy  |  Purchase, Lita Annenberg Hazen Charitable Trust Gift, in honor of Cynthia Polsky and Leon Bernard Polsky, 1982 (1982.220.8)
    7831024
  • Poem page mounted as a hanging scroll  |  Momoyama period, dated 1606  |  Painting by Tawaraya Sotatsu (Japanese); Calligraphy by Hon'ami Koetsu (Japanese)  |  Ink on paper decorated with gold and silver  |  The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975 (1975.268.59)
    6051024
  • Poem page mounted as a hanging scroll  |  Momoyama period, dated 1606  |  Painting by Tawaraya Sotatsu (Japanese); Calligraphy by Hon'ami Koetsu (Japanese)  |  Ink on paper decorated with gold and silver  |  The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975 (1975.268.59)
    9021024
  • Tea bowl  |  Song dynasty, 960–1279; Jian ware  |  Fujian Province, China  |  Stoneware with hare's-fur glaze  |  Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891 (91.1.226)
    12581024
  • Bowl  |  9th century; cAbbasid  |  Iraq  |  Earthenware, tin-glazed and stained  |  Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1963 (63.159.4)
    10471024
  • The Vine  |  1921; revised 1923; this cast, 1924  |  Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (American)  |  Bronze  |  Rogers Fund, 1927 (27.66)
    7151024
  • Denise Leidy
    1280852
  • I'm Denise Leidy, I'm one of the curators in the department of Asian art, and I'm going to talk about gesture.

  • My default position is to read gesture to figure out who I'm looking at and what they're doing.

  • It's what I see first and how I begin to understand almost everything I see.

  • I'm a mom, and also the eldest of a very large family. I have very fond memories of watching babies

  • discover their hands. It must be this very human thing to look up and realize that you've got these great things that move and you've got an opposable thumb and you can do things with them.

  • And I suspect that a great many of the world's babies begin by sticking their hands in their mouths.

  • One of my favorite sculptures in the Medieval department is the Virgin Mary meeting her kinswoman, Elizabeth, at a moment when they're both pregnant. And you don't actually have to remember the story, I think, to understand the sculpture, because you see two women, they're standing very, very close to each other

  • they're touching, and one is actually placing her hand over her heart. Any woman might look at the crystals in the bellies of these women, and guess that perhaps they're supposed to be pregnant. And I think

  • gesture creates both intimacy and passion in this wonderful Persian painting of two lovers who are in the middle of nowhere, who've just finished eating and drinking, and have obviously moved on to the main event, and are having a very romantic time.

  • And I find the gesture of this unknown, and in my opinion, horribly arrogant Italian young man, very interesting. He's standing there with his hand on his hip, he's staring out at you, and he's holding a book. He's not only holding the book, he's very clearly using his fingers to mark the place. So what is he saying? "You interrupted me while I'm reading, how dare you?" or, "Hey, I can read, whoopie!" Exactly what is going on in this painting?

  • The hands of this Japanese actor, and particularly the fingers, appear boneless. It's like there's very little power in them. But, I think because the gesture is so exaggerated, you can imagine those hands moving out and grabbing you around your neck, and ending your life.

  • If I hadn't spent so much of my life learning to read gesture in one artistic tradition

  • I might not see them quite as much as I do. In this

  • poem page, you read the actual moment of writing in the way in which you can

  • read the brush drying out as the artist writes, and then he fills it up again and you have darker ink.

  • So I think one of the things that happens is that you always see gesture at work. For example

  • in this bowl, you have to acknowledge that someone made it, and someone painted it, and that same someone wished us all happiness with the writing in the bottom of the bowl.

  • And then I mean, if hands moving around, made everything in this building, and made the building itself

  • the Met exists on human gesture.

  • 2007.75a,b
    Buddhist goddess Ushnishavijaya (Zun Shengfomu), Qing dynasty, late 17th–early 18th century, China, Gilt brass, lost-wax cast Gilt brass, lost-wax cast (2007.75a, b)
  • 1987.80.1
    Shiva as Lord of Dance (Nataraja), Chola period, ca. 11th century, Tamil Nadu, India, Copper alloy Gift of R. H. Ellsworth Ltd., in honor of Susan Dillon, 1987 (1987.80.1)
  • 22.16.22
    Mother Feeding Child, 1898, Mary Cassatt (American), Pastel on wove paper, mounted on canvas From the Collection of James Stillman, Gift of Dr. Ernest G. Stilllman, 1922 (22.16.22)
  • 1979.206.1134
    "Baby Figure", 12th–9th century b.c., Mexico; Olmec, Ceramic, cinnabar, red ocher The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1134)
  • 17.190.724
    The Visitation, ca. 1310, Attributed to Master Heinrich of Constance, German; Made in Constance, Walnut, paint, gilding, rock-crystal cabochons Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.724)
  • 50.164
    Two Lovers, 1630; Safavid, Riza cAbbasi, Isfahan, Iran, Tempera and gilt paint on paper Purchase, Francis M. Weld Gift, 1950 (50.164)
  • 29.100.16
    Portrait of a Young Man, 1530s, Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano) (Italian, Florentine), Oil on wood H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.16)
  • JP2822
    Otani Oniji II, dated 1794, Toshusai Sharaku (Japanese), Polychrome woodcut print on paper Henry L. Phillips Collection, Bequest of Henry L. Phillips, 1939 (JP2822)
  • 1996.100.1
    A Lady Playing the Tanpura, ca. 1735, India (Rajasthan, Kishangarh), Ink, opaque and transparent watercolor, and gold on paper Fletcher Fund, 1996 (1996.100.1)
  • 1982.220.8
    Krishna's Foster-Mother Yashoda with the Infant Krishna, Chola period, early 12th century, India (Tamil Nadu), Copper alloy Purchase, Lita Annenberg Hazen Charitable Trust Gift, in honor of Cynthia Polsky and Leon Bernard Polsky, 1982 (1982.220.8)
  • 1975.268.59
    Poem page mounted as a hanging scroll, Momoyama period, dated 1606, Painting by Tawaraya Sotatsu (Japanese); Calligraphy by Hon'ami Koetsu (Japanese), Ink on paper decorated with gold and silver The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975 (1975.268.59)
  • 91.1.226
    Tea bowl, Song dynasty, 960–1279; Jian ware, Fujian Province, China, Stoneware with hare's-fur glaze Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891 (91.1.226)
  • 63.159.4
    Bowl, 9th century; cAbbasid, Iraq, Earthenware, tin-glazed and stained Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1963 (63.159.4)
  • 27.66
    The Vine, 1921; revised 1923; this cast, 1924, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (American), Bronze Rogers Fund, 1927 (27.66)
  • Buddhist goddess Ushnishavijaya (Zun Shengfomu), Qing dynasty, late 17th–early 18th century, China, Gilt brass, lost-wax cast Gilt brass, lost-wax cast (2007.75a, b)
    Shiva as Lord of Dance (Nataraja), Chola period, ca. 11th century, Tamil Nadu, India, Copper alloy Gift of R. H. Ellsworth Ltd., in honor of Susan Dillon, 1987 (1987.80.1)
    Mother Feeding Child, 1898, Mary Cassatt (American), Pastel on wove paper, mounted on canvas From the Collection of James Stillman, Gift of Dr. Ernest G. Stilllman, 1922 (22.16.22)
    "Baby Figure", 12th–9th century b.c., Mexico; Olmec, Ceramic, cinnabar, red ocher The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1134)
    The Visitation, ca. 1310, Attributed to Master Heinrich of Constance, German; Made in Constance, Walnut, paint, gilding, rock-crystal cabochons Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.724)
    Two Lovers, 1630; Safavid, Riza cAbbasi, Isfahan, Iran, Tempera and gilt paint on paper Purchase, Francis M. Weld Gift, 1950 (50.164)
    Portrait of a Young Man, 1530s, Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano) (Italian, Florentine), Oil on wood H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.16)
    Otani Oniji II, dated 1794, Toshusai Sharaku (Japanese), Polychrome woodcut print on paper Henry L. Phillips Collection, Bequest of Henry L. Phillips, 1939 (JP2822)
    A Lady Playing the Tanpura, ca. 1735, India (Rajasthan, Kishangarh), Ink, opaque and transparent watercolor, and gold on paper Fletcher Fund, 1996 (1996.100.1)
    Krishna's Foster-Mother Yashoda with the Infant Krishna, Chola period, early 12th century, India (Tamil Nadu), Copper alloy Purchase, Lita Annenberg Hazen Charitable Trust Gift, in honor of Cynthia Polsky and Leon Bernard Polsky, 1982 (1982.220.8)
    Poem page mounted as a hanging scroll, Momoyama period, dated 1606, Painting by Tawaraya Sotatsu (Japanese); Calligraphy by Hon'ami Koetsu (Japanese), Ink on paper decorated with gold and silver The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975 (1975.268.59)
    Tea bowl, Song dynasty, 960–1279; Jian ware, Fujian Province, China, Stoneware with hare's-fur glaze Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891 (91.1.226)
    Bowl, 9th century; cAbbasid, Iraq, Earthenware, tin-glazed and stained Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1963 (63.159.4)
    The Vine, 1921; revised 1923; this cast, 1924, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (American), Bronze Rogers Fund, 1927 (27.66)
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    Buddhist goddess Ushnishavijaya (Zun Shengfomu)
    Qing dynasty, late 17th–early 18th century
    China
    Gilt brass, lost-wax cast
    Gilt brass, lost-wax cast (2007.75a, b)
    Not on view
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Shiva as Lord of Dance (Nataraja)
    Chola period, ca. 11th century
    Tamil Nadu, India
    Copper alloy
    Gift of R. H. Ellsworth Ltd., in honor of Susan Dillon, 1987 (1987.80.1)
    On view: Gallery 240
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Mother Feeding Child
    1898
    Mary Cassatt (American)
    Pastel on wove paper, mounted on canvas
    From the Collection of James Stillman, Gift of Dr. Ernest G. Stilllman, 1922 (22.16.22)
    Not on view
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    "Baby Figure"
    12th–9th century b.c.
    Mexico; Olmec
    Ceramic, cinnabar, red ocher
    The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1134)
    On view: Gallery 358
    Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasFirst Floor
    The Visitation
    ca. 1310
    Attributed to Master Heinrich of Constance
    German; Made in Constance
    Walnut, paint, gilding, rock-crystal cabochons
    Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.724)
    On view: Gallery 304
    Medieval Art and The CloistersFirst Floor
    Two Lovers
    1630; Safavid
    Riza cAbbasi
    Isfahan, Iran
    Tempera and gilt paint on paper
    Purchase, Francis M. Weld Gift, 1950 (50.164)
    On view: Gallery 462
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    Portrait of a Young Man
    1530s
    Bronzino (Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano) (Italian, Florentine)
    Oil on wood
    H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.16)
    On view: Gallery 609
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Otani Oniji II
    dated 1794
    Toshusai Sharaku (Japanese)
    Polychrome woodcut print on paper
    Henry L. Phillips Collection, Bequest of Henry L. Phillips, 1939 (JP2822)
    Not on view
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    A Lady Playing the Tanpura
    ca. 1735
    India (Rajasthan, Kishangarh)
    Ink, opaque and transparent watercolor, and gold on paper
    Fletcher Fund, 1996 (1996.100.1)
    Not on view
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Krishna's Foster-Mother Yashoda with the Infant Krishna
    Chola period, early 12th century
    India (Tamil Nadu)
    Copper alloy
    Purchase, Lita Annenberg Hazen Charitable Trust Gift, in honor of Cynthia Polsky and Leon Bernard Polsky, 1982 (1982.220.8)
    On view: Gallery 240
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Poem page mounted as a hanging scroll
    Momoyama period, dated 1606
    Painting by Tawaraya Sotatsu (Japanese); Calligraphy by Hon'ami Koetsu (Japanese)
    Ink on paper decorated with gold and silver
    The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975 (1975.268.59)
    Not on view
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Tea bowl
    Song dynasty, 960–1279; Jian ware
    Fujian Province, China
    Stoneware with hare's-fur glaze
    Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 1891 (91.1.226)
    On view: Gallery 202
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Bowl
    9th century; cAbbasid
    Iraq
    Earthenware, tin-glazed and stained
    Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1963 (63.159.4)
    Not on view
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    The Vine
    1921; revised 1923; this cast, 1924
    Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (American)
    Bronze
    Rogers Fund, 1927 (27.66)
    On view: Gallery 700
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors

    © 2011 The Metropolitan Museum of Art