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Met Absent(e) %

BA7D7632-CC56-4EAB-B227-87A6EBF52F80Met floor plan: Yellow highlighted galleries have been viewed, 3/14/2020. Inset: Dans un café, L’absinthe, Edgar Degas, Musée d’Orsay, 1875; Van Gogh Absente Poster; Photo of Toulous-Lautrec drinking Absenthe, 1910.

I have visited ~55 times and viewed all galleries up to 599, 55% complete. As Absenthe is 55% alcohol and often depicted in paintings, it seems to be an auspicious metric for entering “European Paintings”.

But now I have an absent Met. Closed due to Corona Virus. Memories of viewings, Met online musings, and modified methods will follow. After all, Montaigne “sheltered in place” with 1,500 books in self-imposed reclusion for almost 10 years. 

“In the year of Christ 1571, at the age of thirty-eight, on the last day of February, his birthday, Michael de Montaigne, long weary of the servitude of the court and of public employments, while still entire, retired to the bosom of the learned virgins, where in calm and freedom from all cares he will spend what little remains of his life, now more than half run out. If the fates permit, he will complete this abode, this sweet ancestral retreat; and he has consecrated it to his freedom, tranquility, and leisure.” –  Montaigne, inscription on his bookshelves, 1571.

The Shape of Labor

3C3B0721-5B85-4B23-975F-82A35A2087CFThe Harvesters, detail, and analysis, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565, gallery 642.

Shape: “If Bruegel’s peasants give the landscape its function, their tool gives it its form. Here, an entire world is constructed around the shape of its most essential unit; the shape of the scythe borne by the figure in the lower left corner.” Labor: “Each scythe-arc reveals the stages of the economic system: harvested wheat to the road; a cart to the village; a distant town to the ships; to the centers of manufacture and trade. The painting connects the dots of a newly expanding economy, depicting the peasants as the heart of a system that profits only those at the far end.” Extracts from On Bruegel’s The Harvesters, Henry McMahon, The Painter’s Table (blog), 2016.

In college I had a neighbor, previously a second-tier official British Royal portrait painter, who’d fallen on hard times. His family trust kept him out of England, quietly in Baltimore when not institutionalized. He gave me a signed copy of a Salvador Dali book in exchange for my K&L Feeds hat with “I eat eggs” on one side and “I drink milk” on the other.  His exit came with an alcohol binge: hands painted red, displaying the shapes of labor in the local bar; hammer in one hand, sickle in the other.


Halves: Hip Gables and Basement Windows


Left: Two Cottages, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1636, not on view. 
Right: The Anderson’s Half-Hip Home, Alec Bernstein, 2020.

Drawn to Rembrandt.  The cottages, farms, and feelings of Rembrandt’s half-hip gabled roofs bring thoughts of the Dutch-style Chicago bungalows I grew up with. Good for snow. 

The sketch is the view out my bedroom window. These homes had basement half-windows at ground level outside and at the ceiling inside. For 25 cents a week, I fed our neighbor’s dog Bunnie by crawling through their basement window. I was not old enough to trust with a key. These halves seemed perfectly scaled to childhood. 

It feels as long ago as Rembrandt.

woulda, coulda, shoulda


Top: Hypothetical reconstruction of the portraits of Tommaso and Maria Portinari (The Met, 14.40.626–27) with Hans Memling, “Virgin and Child,” ca. 1470.
Bottom Left and right: copper maps, fig. 11 & 15 Met online. 
Bottom center: Tommaso and Maria, 1470, Hans Memling, gallery 642.

The Met hypothesis of the triptych is a “how it would’ve been”. A marriage portrait pair with a devotional centerpiece. Quite a difference from the portraits as they are exhibited. Nota Bene – the improvement in the perspective when angled on its assumed hinges. 

The copper map of Tommaso could “show the use of a copper blue to add highlights to the folds of the very deep black jerkin, seemingly to suggest the way a velvet garment slightly glows at the edges when struck by light (left). The decoration in Maria contains copper in addition to lead, suggesting that lead white and a copper blue were used to create pearls further shaded with a carbon-containing black paint.” Met Online.

Memling, in my opinion, should have a more prominent place in the canon. He was an A-list painter in his time, and should be now. Even the copper maps are painterly.


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