Yesterday I took my daughter to the museum at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. It’s privately funded and thus was not affected by the (recently concluded) government shutdown.
The museum is small, but it features a wonderful collection from the Byzantine Empire and an impressive exhibit of pre-Columbian American artifacts. It also has, tucked away in the corner of one of the rooms, this marvelous painting by El Greco:
What struck me was that the painting manages to convey great emotion even though both Mary’s and Elizabeth’s faces are almost totally obscured. Well worth the schlep to Georgetown if you live in or are visiting the D.C. area.
Not surprisingly, beef has the highest CO2 emissions per pound, but surprisingly high also are cheese and shrimp. I wonder if transportation was included in the figuring.
This talk from the E.F. Schumahcer Institute was delivered in May, but it still seems entirely relevant to our current predicament.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring you Christmas wishes from Ronnie James Dio (along with the rest of the Dio-era Black Sabbath line-up).
Since content will likely be light this coming week, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to offer up some representative posts from the previous four Decembers since I started blogging, as a kind of retrospective.
(Note: some of these originally appeared on my first blog, “Verbum Ipsum,” but have been imported to WP; consequently, there may be some broken links here and there.)
The Post had an article this weekend on the nearly forgotten Renaissance master Correggio (a.k.a. Antonio Allegri) who at one time ranked up there with the likes of Michelangelo and Leonardo.
What makes Correggio stand out is that his work is unconventional, even at times chaotic, by the standards of the day:
Correggio’s paintings are so idiosyncratic and so subtle that they don’t yield the sound bites history prefers, as with Titian (“Brushstroke Guy”) or Michelangelo (“Mr. Classic Nude”). Correggio’s art seems all about resisting simple views, of art or of the worlds it shows. We can’t get an easy handle on Correggio’s pictures, because they’re dedicated to flux, indirection and obliquity. He may have used that combination to stand out from the crowd in talent-packed Renaissance Italy. But, like most artistic choices, it must mostly have depended on this painter’s view of the world.
The ultimate example of Correggio’s unique vision is the huge fresco he unveiled in the dome of Parma cathedral, in 1530, after years and years of work. This is Correggio’s most innovative project, and his most influential. It seems to open up the dome to let us see a teeming host of angels in the sky beyond. (Many Catholic churches now have similar ceilings, probably without knowing that they owe them to Correggio.) And yet, despite the cupola’s stunning special effects, this is also the least legible of paintings. Correggio has taken a standard Christian story — of the Virgin Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven at the moment of her death — and painted it as something so complex, it’s hardly graspable. It may be the perfect picture for a dome: Its floating figures aren’t tied down to a single view, so worshipers below can take it in from any spot. And yet that also means that there’s no stable order to hang on to, no single take-home message you can pull out of its turmoil.
For Correggio, this is heaven: a place where nothing ever settles down and there’s no one way to look at things.
Be sure to check out the accompanying video of the Parma dome here. It’s really spectacular.
I recently saw this exhibit at the National Gallery. Lievens was a contemporary and friend of Rembrandt who became somewhat overshadowed, partly because some of his work was later mis-attributed to Rembrandt. The exhibit is an attempt to give him his proper due. I thought that his “Raising of Lazarus” was particularly striking. (This image is reversed from the actual painting where Christ is on the left and the onlooking crowd is on the right, but it gives the idea. Note the ghostly hands rising out of the crypt in the lower right.)
Very cool and worth checking out if you’re in DC. (And you can’t beat the price!)
I’m not really sure what to make of it, but I thought I’d pass it along. Essentially, the author asks if beautiful complex music (and other art) can actually be a hindrance to faith:
The church has reason to fear great beauty, hence the effort to rescue our attention, through plainspoken and deliberately flat-footed modern texts, from the mesmerizing graces of the Latin Mass or the splendid poetry of the Anglican Church’s Book of Common Prayer. I am one small example, having spent the Sunday mornings of my youth in the Episcopal Church allowing Thomas Cranmer’s magical imagery and liquid liturgical responses to roll off my tongue without a thought to God at all.
It’s not always easy to distinguish the aesthetic and religious impulses, and I’ve met a fair number of Christians who identify refined spirituality with good taste. So, I wonder if he’s not on to something here.
As I had the day off yesterday with nothing much to do, I decided to spend a couple of hours at the National Gallery of Art, just a 15 minute or so walk from our place. It’s always been one of my favorite places in DC, going back to when I used to come here on trips during college.
One painting that particularly struck me this time around was “The Baptism of Christ” by “The Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altar,” sometimes referred to as the last Gothic painter of Cologne.
As the informative web page for this painting says, the Master “combined the naturalism of artists in the Netherlands with the abstract, otherworldly qualities of earlier German painting.”
One thing I love about this painting is the motley assortment of saints that surrounds the central image. You’ve got St. George perched on the corpse of his dragon, some monk-looking guy with a knife plunged into his back, some bearded ogre-looking dude with another weird little guy sitting on his shoulders. A nice reminder that the church truly is “catholic,” or “it takes all kinds.” Not to mention that the communion of saints is properly oriented around Christ as its center.