Home > Art, Travel > From Duccio to Vermeer

From Duccio to Vermeer

February 5, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Duccio, The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew, 1308/1311

On Wednesday last week, Gail and I took the train down to Washington from New York. I discussed our first DC evening in my last post, where I also explained that I was there on business Thursday and Friday at the National Science Foundation, so I wasn’t anticipating getting to do very much in DC. However, some good fortune came my way when we managed to make good progress on our work Thursday. We thought we might be done by mid morning Friday, or noon at the latest. As it turned out, we didn’t finish until 12:45 Friday afternoon, after which I had lunch with my old friend Zongzhu, who is on leave at NSF. I already knew the one place I planned to go if I had free time — the National Gallery of Art — and I knew they were open until 5:00, so I figured I could both see Zongzhu and get over there. Gail was spending the afternoon with her cousin’s daughter Liz (yes, I know, that makes Liz a cousin too), who is in law school at Georgetown. I could eat with Zongzhu, get on the Metro orange line at the Ballston stop in Arlington, get off at Metro Center, walk the two blocks back to the Willard, drop my briefcase, and then walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to the gallery.

That was my plan anyway, and it’s pretty much what I did. I wanted to be at the hotel by 2:30 and the gallery by 3:00. The only thing that went wrong is that as I stood at the hotel elevators on the 9th floor, waiting to go down and walk to the gallery, I heard two women talking on a rising elevator, and when its doors opened, off walked Gail and Liz. I could have just passed them without a word and descended, but instead I headed back to the hotel room with them and we caught up on what we were doing. They had walked for hours, gone up and down the Washington Monument, and were taking a break prior to going back out for a late lunch and a visit to Liz’s apartment. I knew Gail would ordinarily have wished to go to the gallery too, especially considering that we hadn’t been there since 1988, but she was there to spend time with Liz, so we split up again and I headed out.

It was, by the way, pretty cold. Mid 20s or so. I walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, passing assorted important buildings along the way, such as the Justice Department headquarters and the National Archives. If I had more time, I would have gone into the Archives to make sure the constitution was still there, but art beckoned. I knew exactly what I wanted to do — start with the oldest paintings of the permanent collection, Italian art of the 13th century, take my time, and get as far as I could. I arrived at the north entrance on the lower level around 3:15, checked my coat (despite the cold, I had bundled up too much, and was way too hot when I arrived), grabbed a map of the galleries, and headed up to the first floor.

I had just enough time, as it turned out, to start in room 1 and finish in rooms 50ABC. As you can see, this means I started with 13th century Italian art; went through later Italian, Spanish, and French art; then Netherlandish and German; and finally 17th century Dutch and Flemish. In other words, Duccio to Vermeer. I was disappointed not to get to the British or American, but I didn’t want to rush, and I saw so many treasures as it was. Plus, I wanted to continue our post-Italy theme of revisiting museums (The Louvre, The Met, now The National Gallery) with a focus on their Italian art, in order to complement and add to all that we saw and learned in Italy in November. I must say, it was a thrill to have so many rooms virtually to myself, with at most one or two others sharing some of the rooms at any given time. Often, I was by myself.

It all starts with a bang, in gallery 1, with two Duccios and a Giotto. I included a picture of the Giotto in an earlier post. The Duccio pictured at the top of this post, as described at the gallery website, “was one of the rear panels of Duccio’s magnificent Maestà in Siena cathedral. With more than fifty individual scenes, the altarpiece was about fourteen feet wide and towered to gabled pinnacles some seventeen feet over the main altar. It was installed in June 1311 after a triumphant procession through the streets of Siena. Priests, city officials, and citizens were followed by women and children ringing bells for joy. Shops were closed all day and alms were given to the poor. Completed in less than three years, the Maestà was a huge undertaking for which Duccio received 3,000 gold florins—more than any artist had ever commanded. Nevertheless, Duccio, like all artists of his time, was regarded as a craftsman and was often called on to paint ceiling coffers, parade shields, and the like. Not until the middle and later fourteenth century did the status of artists rise.”

My visit ended with a bang too, thanks to the three Vermeers in gallery 50A. Not surprisingly, given Vermeer’s immense popularity, this tiny gallery was the most crowded of the ones I visited. I had to wait for people to move on, but ultimately I had the room to myself.

Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664

I never get to have enough time in the National Gallery. I suppose I need to spend a week in DC some time, so I can go to the gallery a little bit every morning and have the afternoons free to go to other museums. Some day. Or rather, some week.

Categories: Art, Travel
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: