Click image below for more "still life"

Click image below for more "still life"
Francis Cunningham "Three Baldwin Apples" (1964) Oil on linen 5'' x 16''

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tour of the Italian Renaissance in the Metropolitan Museum with Francis Cunningham.

Today instead of meeting in the studio for a session of video editing and blogging, Francis Cunningham invited me to the Metropolitan Museum for a tour of some of his favorite Renaissance paintings. In addition, he pointed out a few relevant pieces. We also looked at a group of Venetian works, which were on my mind, since I'm now reading Berenson's Italian Painters Of The Renaissance, the section on Venetian painters.

For a warm up, we started with an ancient Greek sculpture of Diadoumenos, originaly cast in bronze: a Roman copy from 1st or 2nd century A.D. and a modern cast with only the feet and fragments in the shoulders from an ancient copy. Francis pointed out the enormous gap separating what appears at first glance to be identical sculptures. The Roman copy has life - movement and tactile values, which are absent in the modern cast figure. "The harmony in the proportions of the parts of the body and the overall movement of the body are clearly visible in the Roman copy, but inarticulate, as if they had been "smudged," in the modern cast. Consequently, what matters  does not come across."
Roman marble copy statue of Diadoumenos, 1st-2nd century A.D.

Modern cast of the Diadoumenos, copy of Greek bronze statue of ca. 430 B.C. by Polykleitos.

Detail of the modern cast of the Diadoumenos.

Detail of the Roman copy of the Diadoumenos
After spending 15 minutes with the Diadoumenos going back and forth between the statues, comparing them, we headed to the Italian section.
Francis Cunningham in the room with the early Italian Renaissance paintings.

Sasetta, Italian Sienese, active by 1423, dies 1450. The Journey of Magi. Tempera and gold on wood.
One of the Metropolitan Museum's treasures, but difficult to photograph behind glass.

Giovanni di Paolo, Italian Sienese, 1398-1483. Madonna and Child with Saints. Tempera on wood, gold ground.

The Greek and Roman sculptures still fresh in mind, Francis pointed out the movement in the figures and the linear paths the artist created throughout the painting.

 Giovanni di Paolo's Paradise.

Giovanni Bellini, Italian Venetian, active by 1459, died 1516. Madonna Adoring the Sleeping Child. Tempera on wood.
This early Bellini masterpiece was followed by one of Francis' favorites.

A later, Giovanni Bellini, Italian Venetian, active by 1459, died 1516. Madonna and Child. Oil on Wood.
Francis pointed out the background and the mastery of light: "One of the most beautiful expressions of the poetry of light of any painting I know."

Andrea Mantegna, Italian Paduan, born no later than 1430.The Adoration of the Shepherds. Tempera on canvas, transferred from wood.
Another masterpiece, we looked at "the space and the crystaline character of the forms."

Vittore Carpaccio, Italian Venetian,  born about 1455, died 1523/26. The Meditation on the Passion.
Oil and tempera on wood.
Here the point of particular interest was the storytelling.

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Italian Florence, 1448/49-1494 Florence. Saint Christopher and the Infant Christ. Fresco. 
From far away this has great energy, three-dimensional form and space.

Perugino, Italian Umbrian, active by 1469, died 1523. The Resurrection. Tempera on Wood.
This was our main destination and if I remember correctly, if Francis had only one choice of all works at the Met, he might choose this Perugino for the sensations of space in the landscape.

Francis Cunningham looking at Perugino.

Perugino, Italian Citta della Pieve, active by 1469-died 1523. Saint John the Baptist, Saint Lucy. Oil on wood.

In contrast with the previous work, Perugino's Resurrection, and his admiration of its landscape space, Francis was critical of these figures. "They lack clarity of form and understanding of how one part of the body works with the others, in comparison to what we've already seen in the Diadoumenos sculpture and the Ghirlandaio fresco."  This was also our transition to Luca Signorelli.

Luca Signorelli,  Italian Cortona, active 1470-died 1523. Cortona, Madona and Child. Oil and gold on wood.

The decorative flatness of the figures in the background makes the Madonna and Child jump out. We powerfully respond to the plastic form.
Fra Carnevale, Italian, active by 1445, died 1484, The Birth of the Virgin.
In passing we noted the wonderful use of perspective in the placement of the figures in architectural space.

Raphael, Italian, Marchgian, 1483-1520, The Agony in the Garden.

In contrast to the structured, angular architecture and the figures in Fra Carnevale this small work feels real in its softness and roundness and it feels somehow contemporary in its storytelling.

Raphael, Italian 1483-1520, c.1504, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints.
In this large scale, early altarpiece by one of the great masters of storytelling and space composition, whose early training was under Perugino, we admired the composition  of the figures in space. 

Bronzino, Italian, 1503-1572, Portrait of a Young Man.

We made a chronological jump  to this superb Bronzino, noting it as being a portrait of a historical man rather than a religious or mythical subject.

Finally, after Giovanni Bellini and Carpaccio, earlier, we returned to later Venetian painting: Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto. All three below are more opulent than anything we have seen in depicting mythological and religious stories.  The Tintoretto is almost Baroque in the choreography of its composition.

Titian, Italian Venetian, died 1576, Venus and Adonis.

Paulo Veronese, Italian Venetian, Mars and Venus United by Love.

Tintoretto, Italian Venetian, 1518-1594, The Miracle of Loaves and Fishes.

Paolo Veronese, Italian Venetian, 1528-1588, Saint Catherine of Alexandrian in Prison, ca.1590

Like the above Tinoretto, which feels as though it could be an exquisite picnic in contemporary Venetian dress, this Veronese has a religious subject, a saint, but she can hardly pass for one. The figure feels like a contemporary (to Veronese) portrait commission, with the most gorgeous gown showing the subject's status.