Portrait of a Woman with a Man at a Casement, Fra Filippo Lippi, ca. 1440, gallery 644; Antoine Laurent Lavoisier and His Wife (Marie Anne Pierrette Paulze), Jacques Louis David, French, 1788, not on view; Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes, John Singer Sargent, 1897, gallery 771.
The Filippo Lippi caught my eye, even online, while simulating my Met visits. This inconvenience is certainly a petty annoyance compared to our viral trauma. Covid-19. If history is a model, the plague that devastated medieval Europe did lay the foundations for humanism and the Renaissance. May we be half as lucky.
So . . . I go to the Met map . . . pick a gallery, find its title (e.g. 603, Filippo Lippi to Botticelli) . . . search by gallery number and title . . . hope to find the works in that room. Be wary . . . the search lists every 603, including, for example, the 19th century horse carriage drawing, Design for Coupé, no. 603 (“Medium Size Clarence on C Springs“).
The Filippo Lippi is the earliest surviving double portrait. It demonstrates the Italian preference for the profile over the three-quarter view. Her sleeve is embroidered with letters spelling “lealta” (faithful). The scale and pose of the couple invite a lot of discussion in the blog world. . . . They are on separate planes. . . . His hand is on an ownership crest . . . his to share? his to gain? And of course the male’s shadow refers to Pliny’s origin of painting; “a lover traces the contours of the shadow cast by his beloved” (my italics). Does this mean she is the inventor of painting? Robert Burton in his 17th-century bestseller The Anatomy of Melancholy claims the action is by the woman, tracing her man’s shadow, to comfort her while he is off in the wars.
Lavoisier was a research chemist, analyzing gunpowder, oxygen, and the chemical composition of water. In 1789 he published a chemistry textbook illustrated by his wife. Because of his politics, Lavoisier’s portrait was withdrawn from the 1789 Paris Salon and not exhibited for a century. Madame Lavoisier sits unusually higher than her husband in the painting and is looking directly outwards . . . at David with whom she had studied. Lavoisier was guillotined, David died in exile, not allowed burial in France. And Marie Anne? She remarried “badly” and kept the portrait in her rooms for the rest of her life.
Sargent decided to portray Edith Minturn Stokes in sporty daywear with a Great Dane at her side. Her husband had “a sudden inspiration,” he later recalled, when the dog became unavailable, and “offered to assume the role of the Great Dane in the picture.” – MetText
Mrs. Welch, my 1st grade teacher, discovered I was myopic. The blackboard was interesting, but I was unaware of anything written on it. Or aware of maybe a pattern. A few marks. Impressionism was the first painting genre that – I remember feeling relieved when viewing the Haystacks at the Art Institute in Chicago. They made sense.
Much later, I read Trevor-Roper’s The World through Blunted Sight. He argued that, compared to the general population, “most of the Impressionists” were myopic. And most refused to wear glasses while painting, if they wore them at all.
“Take those vulgar things away!” – Cezanne, when offered glasses.
“Bon Dieu, je vois comme Bouguereau.” – Monet, rejecting both glasses and the conservative painter.
I still prefer Seurat’s studies to his final paintings. I draw with my specs on – more so the view from each eye is similar – but I view art without them.
Speaking of Bouguereau
Left: Tobias Saying Good-Bye to his Father, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1860, Hermitage.
Right: Tobias Curing His Father’s Blindness, 1630–35, gallery 637; Healing of Tobit, 1630-40, Hermitage; Tobias curing his father’s blindness, 1640, San Zaccaria, Venice; Bernardo Strozzi.
The Bouguereau is a lovely Pre-Raphaelite work and clearly illustrates Monet’s fear and loathing.
The three Strozzi canvases all have vibrant brushwork. The apocryphal Book of Tobit is the subject: archangel Raphael directs Tobias to cure his father’s blindness with the gall of a fish. Bile, irritating as it is to the eye, was evidently a traditional trachoma remedy. It must have had some success, as it remained in use for two thousand years.
Tobit, father of Tobias, earned the cure by paying the debts of the unburied dead. Only then could they be legally buried. Strozzi painted this theme at least eight times. The theme also inspired Rembrandt, Jan Massys, de Vos, van Hemessen, Carracci, Carlone, Assereto, Feti, and Guardi. There is a lot of Tobit Art.
In Funk and Wagnalls’ Folklore Dictionary, the spirits of the rescued deceased – often in animal form (the attentive dog) – are known as The Grateful Dead. This entry did not go unnoticed by Jerry Garcia, who came upon it while playing a game of Fictionary.
There is something about paintings of the blind . . . It would have been interesting to see the myopics interpret the subject.
Gallery 638: “The Most Perfect Style”
Left to right: Michelangelo, Attributed to Daniele da Volterra, gallery 638; Raphael self-portrait, Uffizi, Florence; Leonardo (assumed) self portrait, Uffizi, Florence; Titian self portrait, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.
Frames left to right: Pierced-Acanthus frame, not on view; 603 gallery frame; Reverse frame, 1640, gallery 958.
The Most Perfect Style: Finding out what is in Gallery 638 online is a challenge. Who’s in there is most clear: Masters and Influencers. “The sixteenth century in Rome, Florence, and Venice mark a high point in the history of art. Artists as different as Caravaggio and Ingres, Rubens and Reynolds, defined their achievement vis-à-vis the legacy of Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Titian.” – MetText
Goethe recounts how, when in Rome in 1787, he and a companion “argued about the rival merits of Michelangelo and Raphael . . . and we ended up in joint praise of Leonardo da Vinci.”
Left to right: The Holy Family with the Young Saint John the Baptist, Andrea del Sarto, 1528; Venus and the Lute Player, Titian, 1565–70; Mars and Venus United by Love, 1570s, Paulo Veronese. Gallery 638.
There are as many “top Renaissance master” rankings as there are rankers. The Met rank, noted above, is made “vis-à-vis” its superlative modifier of an absolute adjective: “most perfect”.
Del Sarto has been in and out of the canon for five hundred years. Sometimes “out” because of character (an opinion of character, usually Vasari’s), or because of innovations (by, for example, Tintoretto) – adamantly painting religious subjects in contemporary dress. Then again one could be “in” by impact: “Veronese was the happiest of painters and produced the happiest pictures in the world.” – Henry James
My father always cautioned me, “De gustibus!” – so often, that the “non es disputandem” was not needed. No need to be distracted by the taste of others . . . perfect, more perfect, or most perfect.