Colonia San Antonio, photography, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Gilding the Lily

Did I go too far? This Calla lily is in bloom just outside the kitchen door.

It stops me in my tracks every morning when I enter for breakfast. It has been in full bloom for nearly a week now and shows no signs of fading. A hardy one, for sure.

The original photograph, taken Wednesday, Nov. 2, is a bit flatter and duller than this. I’ll post it below. I blame it on the ambient light and the limits of the iPhone camera. And my own limitations as a photographer.

Fiddling with the image in my digital sandbox resulted in the photo above which shows the honest detail of the lily — the surprisingly varied surface of the spathe — far from lily white and baby-skin smooth, the pumpkin-bright spadix, the rich and deep green of the stem, and the thick and hardy veins of the leaves.

Most important of all, the golden sunlight is captured by all these parts and reflected back to the eye in a waxy sheen.

And the golden reflection of the spadix suggests a diaphanous chalice filled with honeyed nectar.

Not so much in the original.

To “gild the lily” means “to add unnecessary ornamentation to something beautiful in its own right,” according to Merriam-Webster.

The phrase itself is a gilding of Shakespeare’s original quotation in “King John”: “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, / To throw a perfume on the violet, / To smooth the ice, or add another hue / Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light / To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, / Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”

No argument here.

Certainly, painting fine gold with a thin veneer of gold is “ridiculous excess” and rainbows couldn’t be more perfect — but also, painting a lily? Why would somebody do that?

The point is, don’t mess with an already beautiful object, or person.

Still, my original photo did not show the lily as I saw it, or as I felt when I looked upon it.

The version above is closer to the real deal, I believe.

Still, I wonder, did I go too far?

Did I gild the lily?


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