notes from the museum

Titian, Tintoretto, & Veronese – special exhibit; no pictures alowed; lots of very famous paintings on loan to the museum. I’ve studied probably a third of these works in one art history class or another. I spent a little over three hours in the exhibit on Wednesday night:

– I am attracted to Tintoretto’s bravura–high drama, high energy, willingness to break with convention and really get expressive, with both the paint and the composition. But Veronese’s Temptation of Anthony really gets my attention even though Tintoretto’s is very good. It’s a dramatic subject–simple, straightforward, sexy–but in Tintoretto’s hands the pomp becomes more of the same–good, but the story doesn’t pull new meditations or emotions from him. From Veronese it does: dark, glorious, human-scale, frightening. His painting looks like Caravaggio stole his entire modus operandi from it–though it lacks Caravaggio’s ostentatious sheen.

The Supper at Emmaus series again undermines Tintoretto’s alure. Titian and Veronese get and express the solemn ecstacy of the moment of recognition as Christ breaks and blesses the bread, just before dissappearing. Tintoretto’s is all ecstacy, no solemnity, with figures going every which way, and Christ a still center, unheeded, alone. [detail: Titian’s and Veronese’s both have dogs under table; Tintoretto’s has a cat]

-Titian remained master of the nude even after his death [he died well before the other two]. He left the flesh alone and lovingly reproduced it with light, laborious, exacting layers. Veronese and Tintoretto strained the flesh, contorting it to make it expressive, or else they made a statue of it.

-Late Titian is transcendent. His Saint Jerome, the entire composition is expressive and unified–like a late Rembrandt etching, or an Albert Pinkam Ryder painting. Tintoretto’s Jerome is more youthful, strong: the intensity of his passionate study shows him knotted; I picture him rocking as he reads, ready to burst at some sudden realization. Veronese’s Jerome appears strong as well, but time-worn, burdened with care and experience. Titian’s figure is less defined, and less important. He is subsumed in the dim, rocky landscape, and so is the crucifix he meditates on. They are both–Jerome and his crucifix–very much Of This Earth, but their presences, unheroic and unassuming, are all that give it meaning.

On Thursday I spent ten hours, nearly my whole day, checking out the regular collections. I tend to get pretty absorbed in the presence of all that art, but I also aproach it like an endurence contest. When my focus starts to go, I figure out whether I need food or air, and then I go get it:

-I don’t have much love for the Egyptians, all heavy-headed and death obsessed. Even the war-like Assyrians are more appealing–at least their conquests seem to have been life-affirming for them.

-In the Greek vases, the culture, joys, stories that reflected and enriched real lives with meaning, are alive and clear. Moving among them I feel a welling fondness for the Greek peoples. I commune with them; share their passions; mourn their loss.

-But I could be wrong about the Egyptians. Maybe color is the missing element. Maybe the land of the dead and all the activity that seems to lead only to it, was ablaze in glorious hues. Maybe then it was a song.

-A picture of Renoir’s reminded me of Cezanne. Then, reading the card by it, I find it was painted on a visit to Cezanne. I marvel in pondering the grand, aged pair the two would have made, standing in the same valley painting, meditating, sharing one another’s visions. This, more than any other emotion I’ve had in the past two days, makes me want to take up painting. Makes me think of Todd and the start of our friendship, trading artistic ideas and ambitions. I could see us in retirement, on a painting excursion: travel easels and canvas pads. Quaint.

-There is something in Monet’s graduation to Waterlillies–an unfixed subject, drawn from nature, but not specific to a place. It’s no more of an abstraction than the landscapes leading up to it; but it’s a surrender of some sort. No more hunting for the right place and waiting there for the right moment to begin. The subject takes no work; it is not fantastic. All of the work is in the seeing and the painting.

-Cezanne melded his subjects with the logic of paint. Objects in his paintings are no longer representations, they are recreations. Looking at his apples, I believe I could bite them, but they would not taste like apples. They would not taste like anything I’ve ever eaten before.

-Hari-Hara is Shiva and Vishnu all roled up in one.


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