Years ago, on my single (so far) visit to New York City, I had a chance to spend an afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art. One of the highlights of that visit was seeing a collection of works by Auguste Rodin. He is famous for his iconic and powerful sculptures like “The Kiss” and “The Thinker.”
Yet the piece I liked most in the MOMA collection is a portrait bust in white marble called “Madame X.” It shows a woman with a simple hairstyle and no jewelry, her head tilted slightly and her chin raised at an aristocratic angle. She has a nose that a tactful person would describe as “prominent.” It isn’t an ugly nose, but you might say it stands out. In profile, it makes a line that starts at her brow, sweeps smoothly up to the top of a small slope, and makes an abrupt descent. It’s the kind of nose that would be an asset on someone in authority like, say, a high-school algebra teacher.
To me, it’s the nose that gives the woman’s face its character. Apparently Rodin agreed. The bust was commissioned as a portrait of Anna-Elizabeth de Noailles, a French countess. Based on existing photographs of her, it’s an accurate likeness rather than a society portrait meant to flatter.
Had Rodin been a different kind of sculptor, no doubt he would have performed artistic surgery and given the portrait a more conventional and prettier nose. Financially if not artistically, this would have been wise on his part. When MOMA bought the bust from Rodin in 1910, his records showed that the countess had refused to accept it. Apparently she didn’t appreciate her nose.
Which I understand. I’ve never appreciated mine, either. It isn’t as large as hers, but it doesn’t have an elegant swoop like hers, either. It’s just there in the middle of my face, in a rather boring and ordinary way.
A couple of years ago, though, the dermatologist removed a skin cancer from my nose. Fortunately, the surgery didn’t leave any major dents, ridges, or mismatched grafted skin. There’s just a scar that isn’t noticeable to anyone but me.
Still, this has given me a new appreciation for my nose. Aside from some relatively minor sinus issues, it works reliably, day in and day out. It allows me to enjoy aromas like new-mown grass, roses, just-bathed babies, brownies fresh out of the oven, and bacon. It has reliably held up my glasses ever since I was in second grade. Given all that, I can live with the fact that no one will ever want to immortalize it in marble.
Even though, given a choice, the nose I have isn’t necessarily the one I would have picked.