Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This Weekend at the Met

Filippino Lippi (Italian, ca. 1457-1504), Madonna and Child, ca. 1485, tempera, oil and gold on wood, 32 x 23 1/2 in., The Jules Bache Collection, 1949, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
I took an unexpected trip to the Met Friday night, it wasn't an easy one, since the city was being blown in all directions by cold hurricane like winds. Sometimes facing the wrath of mother nature has to be done, my visit that night was long overdue, and I was in desperate need to rejuvenate my soul in the place I call my sanctuary. I walked around the galleries without having any plan as to what I would like to see. I didn't fallow my usual paths, and the outcome was like magic. The first surprise was Filipino Lippi's recently restored painting of Madonna and Child. This painting is to take part in an exhibition about the artist in Rome next year, and it is due to this occasion that the painting was sent to the conservation department. According to the Met's website "a test cleaning revealed that beneath a thick, discolored varnish there was a beautifully preserved, richly colored painting." This description does not over embellish the truth, the intensity of Lippi's colors commanded attention as I walked into the gallery where the painting hangs. The ultramarine blue cloak is electric, and the rich reds pulsate off the picture, it is almost too daring to be a 15th century painting, but there it is hanging in all its glory in a gold ornate frame.
Francesco Francia (Italian, Bologna, active by 1482, died 1517/18), Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and Jerome, 1500-10, tempera on wood, 27 1/2 x 22 1/4 in., gift of George Blumenthal, 1941, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Lippi's Madonna inspired me to look closer at the Met's Renaissance collection. Thinking I had seen it all after years of visiting the museum regularly, I strolled through the galleries, and slowly gems of Italian art kept appearing before me. One of the first paintings to catch my attention was Francesco Francia's Madonna and Child with Saint Francis and Jerome. Here, I thought, was an exquisite work, with beautiful saturated blues, greens, reds and golds. I have always admired Renaissance painters because of their ability to achieve incredible color harmonies using a limited palette of high key colors. Perhaps their advantage over modern painters is that during their time they had a limited choice of colors in the market. These days color makers try to out do each other by giving artists endless choices in colors. No wonder why we are so confused!
Michele da Verona (Michele di Zenone), Italian, Veronese, 1470-1536/44, Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist, probably late 1490's, tempera and oil on wood, 29 x 22 3/4 in., anonymous gift, 1927, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
I usually know right away when a painting interests me or not and for what reasons. When I encountered Michele da Verona's Madonna I wasn't sure how I felt about it. I thought the Madonna was beautiful, a bit on the Michelangelo side, and I loved her almost masculine hand popping out of the picture. I was also taken by the intricate gold and black wood frame. So what bothered me so much that kept me looking at this painting longer than others trying to decipher it? I guess the Christ Child is oddly shaped, and the young Saint John looks a bit like a paper cut out glued down onto the surface of the picture. I did love the warmth of the colors, and the longer I looked at it the more it grew on me. In the end, even if I tried to attempt this kind of work I would fail miserably, with that in mind I consider this a great piece.
Italian (Lombard) Painter, first quarter 16th century, Christ at the Column, oil on wood, 24 x 16 in., private collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Luca Signorelli (Luca d'Egidio di Luca di Ventura), Italian, Cortona, active 1470-died 1523 Cortona, Madonna and Child, ca. 1505-7, oil and old on wood, 20 1/4 x 18 3/4 in., The Jules Bache Collection, 1949, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
If I thought that da Verona's painting had an intricate frame, then I was not ready for the framework on both of the paintings above. I think we can agree that the painted surfaces are delicate and , yes, beautiful, what gives these two works more presence are their architectural frames.
Filippo Tarchiani, Italian, Castello, 1576-1645 Florence, Saint Dominic in Penitence, oil on canvas, 52 x 43 in., private collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
In the same gallery where the previous three paintings hang, this painting by Filippo Tarchiani stole my heart. I have a soft spot for dark moody paintings, and this piece immediately reminded me of Zurbaran's Saint Serapion. I have never seen this painting on display at the Met, and there was no sign of it being a recent acquisition, but who's complaining, I got to see it and I'm glad I did.
Andrea del Sarto, Italian, Florence 1486-1530 Florence, Madonna and Child, oil on wood, lent by Mrs. Alfred A. Taubman, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Another work pulled out from storage, so it seems, is this painting by Andrea del Sarto. If this painting has been hanging in the same spot for years and I never noticed it then I must be really blind. What pulled me into this painting was the emerald green backdrop emerging from the dark. The composition is simple, but the drama is in the way del Sarto worked with light and shadow.
Francesco Francia, Italian, 1450-1517, Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and Jerome, oil on panel, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
My last pleasant surprise at the end of the night was this second painting by Francesco Francia. This beautiful work was tucked away in a dark corner of the Lehman Collection, poorly lit and almost lonely looking. I walked up to it and I thought I was going crazy because I thought I had just seen it on the second floor galleries. Does the Met have two of the same paintings? I went through all the photos taken that night, and yes, I did see another version of it by the same artist. At first glance both paintings may appear to have the same composition, but a closer look reveals subtle differences. It was an exciting find and definitely a good end to my visit.

No comments: