Monday, December 28, 2009

El Greco Visits Brussels

I'm excited about my Caravaggio Pilgrimage to Rome, but I realize that some of you reserve your ecstasy for other artists … El Greco being a favorite.
So for you -- a trip to Brussels may be in order! – A major El Greco exhibition will be showing at the Center For Fine Arts in Brussels between Feb 4 and May 9, 2010

Although El Greco is today regarded as one of the leaders of Spanish Renaissance painting, he did not always enjoy that exalted status. His dramatic style perplexed his contemporaries. At the time of his death in Toledo, in 1614, Caravaggesque Naturalism was all the rage among artists and patrons throughout Europe -- a style extremely different from El Greco’s highly-expressive Mannerism.

El Greco’s work was soon forgotten and remained relatively neglected for almost three centuries. But in 1908, the Spanish art historian Manuel Bartolomé Cossío produced a key monograph on him, sparking an immediate El Greco craze. In 1910 the Marqués de la Vega-Inclán established an El Greco museum in Toledo.

The painter’s popularity flourished anew, as rapidly as it had faded. By the early years of the 20th century, artistic sensibilities had been broadened: the late-19th century break with academic classical realism allowed El Greco to be appreciated in a completely new, modern, light.

The Brussels exhibition will present an overview of the painter’s artistic development. A selection of outstanding works will include the stunning The Disrobing of Christ and The Tears of Saint Peter.

And, of special interest will be El Greco’s final testimonial series of Apostles: “a complete, astonishingly modern series, remarkable for its totally free forms and its extraordinarily bright colours.” Exhibit organizers claim that this visit to Brussels is a one-time thing … once the series returns to the Museo de El Greco in Toledo “ it will never leave again.”!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Art of the Frame

Not long ago I had a debate with someone at a dinner party about picture frames.

He insisted that the frame should never be noticed. But I often make a point of noticing frames! So I wondered – if that were the case – why, for example, were Renaissance frames so detailed and carefully crafted? Why, then, have so many masterpieces in the history of art been mounted in frames which, themselves, could be considered masterpieces?

The frame should enhance the painting by expanding on the intent of the painting. Often, the frame was (and I suppose sometimes still is) conceived as an integral part of the work, not infrequently designed by the artist h/self.

To prove my point, I wish I could take him to the Alte Pinakothek in Munich sometime between Jan 28th and April 18, 2010, to see their Art of the Frame exhibition. The show will focus on the art and history of frames from four centuries, encompassing 16th-century case frames to Classicist and Empire style frames.

A selection of 92 frames dating from between 1600 and 1850 will highlight frames which are of special importance either stylistically or historically in the development of frame design -- from highly elaborate ones to miniature versions. Of particular note will be the Dutch cabinet and Lutma frames, as well as inlaid examples from the Rococo period.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mourning the House of Burgundy

It was at Antwerp Cathedral that I first encountered the concept of funerary “pleurants”, or “weepers”, where twenty-four little bronze figurers of mourners once graced the 1475 tomb of Isabella of Bourbon, 2nd wife of Charles the Bold. Unfortunately, every one was stolen during the iconoclasm that raged in Antwerp in the 16thC, and most of them ended up in the Protestant North; 10 of them have long been held by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

I learned that “pleaurants” were a standard feature on tombs of the House of Burgundy, and now I … and you … will have a chance to see a magnificent set of “pleurants” from another House of Burgundy tomb, here in the U.S.

It was for the tomb of the assassinated John the Fearless (1371–1419), the second Duke of Burgundy, that these 16-inch-tall sculptures were crafted. Carved by Jean de La Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier between 1443 and 1470, these unique devotional figures were sculpted in white alabaster with astonishing detail. The forty sorrowful figures express grief or devotion to their Duke, who was both a powerful political figure and patron of the arts.

The mourners are draped in cloaks, demonstrating their emotion in a variety of ways. Each individual figure has a different expression—some wring their hands or dry their tears, hide their faces in the folds of their robes, or appear lost in reverent contemplation.

"There's something quiet and very powerful about them," said Heather MacDonald, associate curator of European art at the Dallas Museum of Art, which is organizing the tour along with the Dijon Museum of Fine Arts. She describes the sculptures as "astonishingly beautiful."

While the tomb itself will stay in Dijon, this tour will be the first time the group of mourning figures will been seen together outside of France. They will be touring for the next couple of years, traveling while the Dijon museum, is renovated.
"The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy" exhibit will be seen in seven US cities:

Metropolitan Museum, NYC, March 2 - May 23, 2010
St. Louis Art Museum, June 20 - Sept. 6, 2010
Dallas Museum of Art, Oct. 3, 2010 - Jan. 2, 2011
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Jan. 23 - April 17, 2011
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, May 8 - July 31, 2011
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Aug. 21 - Jan. 1, 2012; and
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Jan. 20 - April 15, 2012.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Return of St. Paul

Btw: the Conversion of St. Paul will be back in place in the Cerasi Chapel at Sta. Maria del Popolo by the time the Caravaggio pilgrimage begins in February.
It’s on loan to the Borghese Gallery for the Caravaggio-Bacon Exhibit only until Jan 24th.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Once in a Lifetime

Thomas Hoving died on Thursday. Hoving was the colorful and controversial director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from 1967 to 1977, and was known as – if not the inventor of -- certainly the champion of the Blockbuster Exhibit. His idea was to bring to us -- through a temporary exhibition -- art that we would have a very hard time seeing on our own.

On Friday I heard part of the re-broadcast of a 1993 NPR interview with Hoving. In part of the interview he talked about how the day of the blockbuster exhibit is over.

He said, “They’re not really blockbusters anymore ... They SAY they are, but … there’d be a great show of Caravaggio in which there are three Caravaggios and the rest are followers. Art prices have risen to such ridiculously astronomical heights that nobody can afford the cost of insurance and other things to bring the works of you-name-it into one place any more … it’s virtually impossible to do … people are unwilling to lend anymore, and it’s too costly.”

Interesting that he used Caravaggio as his example back in 1993 … because today I learned about an upcoming Caravaggio exhibition that sure sounds like a blockbuster to me!

Between February 18 and June 13, 2010, Caravaggio 's entire career will be on view at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale. WOW!

In honor of the 400th anniversary of the death of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, the show will bring together masterpieces from museums around the world. These include the two versions of the Supper at Emmaus, on loan from the National Gallery in London and Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera; The Musicians from Hoving’s own Metropolitan Museum, Bacchus from the Uffizi, Boy with Lute from the Hermitage in St Petersburg; Amor Omnia Vincit from Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie; the three versions of Saint John the Baptist, from the Capitoline Museums and the Galleria Corsini in Rome, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City.

Even some works which are rarely loaned out will be included: The Deposition from the Vatican Museums, The Annunciation from the Museum of Nancy (which was restored for the occasion); and The Crowning of Thorns from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.


Almost the entirety of Caravaggio’s artistic production will be on view in Rome: the paintings brought together for the exhibition, plus, of course, the numerous Caravaggios that are on view in Rome’s churches, still displayed in the chapels for which they were originally commissioned.

This will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for art pilgrims to experience a near-complete Caravaggio anthology gathered in one place.

Did I already say “WOW”?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Part 3, Woe Is Me

This may be the final installment of what seems to have turned into a series on the disappointments art-lovers encounter in their travels.

One of my favorite churches in Rome holds two exceptional Caravaggio panels, two Bernini sculptures in a chapel designed by Raphael, plus work by Bregno, Pinturicchio, Bramante, and unusual (for Rome) stained glass windows.

I try to get to Sta. Maria del Popolo every time I’m in Rome. Last month we popped in to capture a few images that we still needed to create a virtual tour.
With us were our Rome-virgin friends, Bob & Barbara, who had all the Jane’s Smart Art Guides Rome titles loaded onto their iPods and were systematically knocking them off, one per day.

Oh no! Caravaggio’s Conversion of St Paul was gone! (On loan to the Barberini Museum, so admittedly still viewable in Rome by diehard Caravaggio pilgrims).
At least now we can say we know what the behind-the-scenes support for Caravaggio's Cerasi Chapel panels looks like!

And this is how Raphael & Bernini's Chigi Chapel looked:

Friday, December 11, 2009

In Restauro

And speaking of closed…

We’ve recently returned from a photo-shoot in Rome, in preparation for an upcoming Jane’s Smart Art Guides virtual tour title: The Fountains of Rome.

It’s definitely a good thing that Rome's monuments are being maintained, but what an irritation it is to find the very thing you’re there to see ensconced behind scaffolding!

We found the all-important Fountain of Moses “in restauro”.

Note that the image of the fountain has been reproduced on the scrim. This is something the Italians have been doing for some time now, so that the monument under restoration remains (sort of) visible. More recently, however, the siren-song of ad revenue has raised its ubiquitous head and the decorative scrims now inevitably sport some commercial message or another. The fact that this ad block is still blank suggests that the scaffolding has only recently gone up. Given the pace of things Italian, Moses could still be up to his neck in scaffolding this time next year.

The Fontana dei Tartarughe (Turtles Fountain), in the lovely little Piazza Mattei, was also fenced off for “lavoro”. Fortunately Michael has become quite adept at capturing images through barriers!

It looked pretty well finished– save for an empty red plastic bucket and scrub broom left in the basin -- so there’s a good chance that the fencing is down by now, with water flowing once again.

Lacoste is helping to pay for the restoration of a building on Piazza di Spagna.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Attention Art-Lovers: Paris Is Closed

The frequency of work stoppages in western European countries is amusing until – as a traveller who’s taken time off and paid a lot of money for airfare and lodging – your trip is ruined by a strike.

This is a favorite time of year for travellers who like to spend their time inside museums … iffy weather isn’t an issue. The lack of tourist crowds more than compensates for the drizzly days.

But this week, innumerable art-lovers are travelling to Paris only to discover that the Louvre, the Pompidou Center , the Musee d’Orsay, the Rodin Museum, Ste.-Chapelle, the Arc de Triomphe, and Versailles are all closed -- "en greve".

The strike is a result of a dispute between the unionized museum workers and the Ministry of Culture over cost-cutting measures. It started at the Pompidou last week and has now spread to dozens of large and small cultural sites in and around Paris.

Today MSNBC reports that the strike appears “to be gathering steam”. Called by all seven unions representing culture ministry employees, the open-ended work stoppage is to protest the government’s plan to drastically reduce the size of the civil service by replacing only half of employees who retire.

Workers at each museum are voting each day to determine the duration of the strike. The website of each museum will be your best source of information about their status.