"The Eyes Have It In 'The Look of Love'"
by Glenny Brock
Once upon a time I was a classics scholar, so most everything I’ve got in terms of compos mentis (mastery of mind, I mean) comes from my preteen struggles with conjugation and declension of Latin verbs and nouns and the Herculean labors that came in my co-ed years, when I was determined to read Plato in the original attaboy lingo. I breezed through Virgil’s Aeneid then slogged through the Symposium and a little bit of Lucian. So satisfying did I find the arcane process of interlinear translation that I thought I’d be doing it into old age. Turns out, people will pay you to work as a journalist but the demand for Greek and Latin scholars has been on the wane since before Cleopatra was dipping pearls into wine. Having very little workaday usage, my translation skills have withered considerably. I still remember what eureka and callipygous mean, as well as phrases like caveat emptor, e pluribus unum, et cetera. But I can’t speak Greek anymore and I read Latin worse than a Roman schoolboy.
And yet however dead those languages may be to me now, a lot of etymological stuff stuck with me. The word for the dark circular opening in the center of my iris, for instance, is pupil, which comes from the Latin word pupilla, which is the diminutive of pupa, which means “little doll” or “puppet,” and refers to the tiny image of myself that I see reflected in the eyes of another. “The Look of Love: Eye Miniatures from the Skier Collection,” which opened Feb. 7, at the Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA), includes more than a hundred steady gazes coming out eyes of every size and color, but the reflections of the viewer are more subtle. Evidently the world’s first major exhibition of lover’s eye jewelry, “The Look” is an array of miniature masterpieces: tiny intricate paintings on bracelets, brooches, lockets and rings, ivory lozenges and pendants circled by pearls, each one depicting an open eye. They are tokens of affection, mementos of mourning, bijoux presented in friendship and ardor — and each has a story. Look long enough and you begin to see yourself in them all.