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Stopping in at the Met, Addendum

April 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Jacopo Bassano, The Baptism of Christ, Unfinished 1592, Oil on canvas

Gail has reminded me that in the post I just wrote on Stopping at the Met, I omitted one of the highlights of last Monday’s visit: Jacopo Bassano’s baptism of Christ. As we were working our way around the European paintings in order to see recently stored works by Filippino Lippi, Velasquez, and Hans Memling, our host suggested we also look at the Bassano, a relatively recent Met acquisition.

At first glance, as we entered the room, I imagined the painting to be a depiction of one of Christ’s stops along the Stations of the Cross, while Gail thought specifically that it looked like a deposition. The Met’s online catalogue entry makes the very same point:

Spectral figures of Christ, Saint John the Baptist, and three angels are shown in a nocturnal landscape. John leans forward and, turning back, baptizes Christ, who is also depicted leaning forward, as though shedding his scarlet robe. His tormented face expresses foreknowledge of his tragic destiny. The three angels serve as counterpoints: one, holding Christ’s robe, gazes at him ecstatically while a second angel looks upward, at the mystical apparition of a dove in the black sky. The horizon is lit by the rays of the setting sun.

This extraordinary picture—deeply expressive and unique in Renaissance painting for showing the Baptism of Christ as occurring at night—is the last known work by the great Venetian painter Jacopo Bassano, who left it unfinished when he died in 1592. It was viewed by his heirs as his artistic testament and was retained by them rather than completed and delivered, as would have been the normal practice. They evidently felt that, as in the case of Michelangelo’s and Titian’s unfinished works, the picture fully expressed Jacopo’s intentions. …

… Bassano here explores an expressive intensity—dark in mood as in palette—that is a direct and deeply personal response to Titian’s late pictures (in particular Titian’s two versions of the “Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence” and his unfinished “Pietà”, painted to decorate his own funerary chapel). The pose of Christ is as though taken from a “Way to Calvary” and this analogy must have been on Bassano’s mind.

It’s quite a powerful painting. Next time you’re at the Met, be sure to see it.

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Categories: Art, Museums

Stopping in at the Met

April 9, 2011 Leave a comment

John Monteleone, Archtop Guitar, Sun King, 2000, Spruce, maple, ebony; sunburst finish (yellow to red), cutaway

We flew off to New York early last Saturday morning, returning very late Tuesday night.
Other than recounting the loss of part of a tooth and complaining about the absurdly late broadcast times of major sporting events in the eastern time zone, I haven’t reported on any of our activities. It being a family visit and all, there’s not much to say, really. But perhaps a few words are in order about our short stop Monday afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There are so many tempting exhibitions at the Met right now that it was difficult to choose from them. We started with Guitar Heroes: Legendary Craftsmen from Italy to New York. The initial objects on display are some extraordinary examples of stringed instruments of all types, from violins of Stradavari and Amati to a Stradavari guitar and a variety of mandolins. The Stradavari guitar, pictured below, is described as follows:

The Rawlins is one of four known surviving guitars made by the famous Italian craftsman Antonio Stradivari. These instruments are unusual among extant Baroque guitars because of their lack of decoration, but they are probably more typical of the guitars created at the time. Stradivari used the same woods for his guitars—spruce for the top and maple for the sides and back—as he did for his violins. His guitars are the oldest surviving examples using these woods, which are standard for modern archtop guitars and mandolins.

Antonio Stradivari, Guitar, The Rawlins, 1700, Spruce, maple, ebony

The heart of the show is the work of three New Yorkers, as explained on the show’s webpage: “Since the 1930s, makers from this tradition in the New York region have become especially well known for their extraordinary archtop guitars. This exhibition examines the work of three remarkable craftsmen from this heritage—John D’Angelico, James D’Aquisto, and John Monteleone—their place in the extended context of Italian and Italian American instrument making, and the inspiration of the sights and sounds of New York City.” There are so many examples to choose from. I’ll display one below, as well as the one up top:

James D’Aquisto,Archtop Guitar, Blue Centura Deluxe model, 1994, Spruce, maple, ebony

You can explore more guitars from the show here.

We were, alas, one day too late to see the Lod Mosaic, Roman mosaics circa 300 CE that were discovered in 1996 during a road construction project in Lod, Israel.

We raced over to the mosaic exhibition site, but the mosaic had already been removed.

I should perhaps explain that the Met is closed to the general public on Mondays, but open to lots of people nonetheless, from staff to assorted hangers-on. We were in the hanger-on category and, had the good fortune to be taken around by a staff member with access to many areas, which is why we were able to get to the place where the mosaic had been, in hope that some portions of it hadn’t been lifted off the floor yet. As consolation, we headed up to the Islamic Galleries, currently closed for renovation, expansion, and reinstallation, where we got a sneak peak of a small new room with wooden ceiling and walls being carved as we watched by Moroccan craftsmen. This will be a must-see when the space re-opens near the end of the year.

What next? A Renaissance Masterpiece Revealed: Filippino Lippi’s Madonna and Child. As the webpage explains: “Filippino Lippi is one of the great artists of fifteenth-century Florence. Among his principal patrons was the wealthy banker Filippo Strozzi (1428–1491), who commissioned a Madonna and Child for his villa at Santuccio, west of the city. This painting was bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum by Jules Bache in 1949. In preparation for an exhibition on the artist that will be held in Rome next year, the picture was taken to conservation for examination this fall. A test cleaning revealed that beneath a thick, discolored varnish there was a beautifully preserved, richly colored painting. So striking is the transformation that the picture seems a new acquisition.”

Madonna and Child, ca. 1485, Filippino Lippi, tempera, oil, and gold on wood

Richly colored indeed. The colors were ravishing. And we had the pleasure of enjoying the painting at our leisure, with the room to ourselves.

Our host then suggested we see two more recently restored paintings. First was Velasquez’s 1624 portrait of King Philip IV:

Velázquez, Philip IV, King of Spain, probably 1624

And then a painting I’ve long loved, Hans Memling’s Annunciation:

Hans Memling, The Annunciation, 1465–75, Oil on wood

Finally, the briefest of stops at the exhibit of Cézanne’s Card Players, among which were the fellows below:

Paul Cézanne, The Card Players, ca. 1890–92, Oil on canvas

And then we had to head off to Long Island, with so much left unseen.

Categories: Art, Museums