Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Botticelli to Braque: Highlighting the great and the familiar

Sandro Botticelli / The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ 

Sandro Botticelli was one of the most celebrated artists of the Early Renaissance, which was known as a golden age of artistic painting in Italy. His 1485 masterpiece, "The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child," welcomes museum-goers to the "Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland" exhibition on display at the de Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco through the end of May. 

Sir Henry Raeburn /
Skating on Duddingston Loch.
The depth and breadth of "Botticelli to Braque" spans more than 400 years of artistic production and the 55 paintings shown in the red-walled Herbst Exhibition Galleries highlight works by many great and familiar painters from the Renaissance to the early 20th century. In addition to Botticelli, the collection includes masterpieces by Diego Velázquez, Johannes Vermer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Sir Henry Raeburn, Frederic Edwin Church, Claude Monet, Paul Gaugin, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

The lender of these impressive works of art is the Scottish National Art Collection, which has linked three Edinburgh institutions that contributed to the show: the Scottish National Gallery, Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

There is always a lot to learn and absorb from seeing any art exhibition, and I became fascinated from the very beginning of "Botticelli to Braque" after viewing "The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child". Afterwards, I researched Botticelli's tempera and learned this: The Italian painter drew inspiration from the work of Filippo Lippi, and it's unusual because he painted his masterpiece on canvas not wood and the Christ Child was rarely portrayed asleep.

"This variation could be interpreted as a reminder of Christ's death," according to nationalgalleries.org, the National Galleries of Scotland's website. "His future suffering for Mankind may also be symbolized by the detailed plants and fruits. The red strawberries, for example, may refer to Christ's blood. They also complement the beautiful rose bower which forms an 'enclosed garden', a symbol of the Virgin derived from the Old Testament Song of Solomon."

Johannes Vermeer / Christ in the House
of Martha and Mary.
Meanwhile, of the 36 paintings by the Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer that are known to still exist in the world, "Christ in the House of Martha and Mary" is the largest one and the only one that illustrates a biblical subject. Vermeer is one of my favorite artists and I looked forward to seeing his contribution to the "Botticelli to Braque" exhibition. After all, any Vermeer is worth seeing.

Vermeer (1632-1675), who was regarded as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age, was known for painting quiet human interaction, and in "Christ in the House of Martha and Mary" (ca. 1654-1655), he depicts the story of Saint Luke's Gospel (10:38-42) that tells of Christ's visit to the sister's house.

According to nationalgalleries.org, "Christ praised Mary's willingness to sit and listen to his teachings, unlike Martha who was preoccupied with housekeeping. The strong play of shadow and light, the characterization of the figures and broad handling of paint were probably inspired by the work of artists from Utrecht, who in turn were influenced by Caravaggio's art."

Rembrandt van Rijn /
Self portrait, aged 51.
When the "Botticelli to Braque" exhibition opened in March, San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker wrote: "An art historian might plot many lines through the selection of paintings on view, tracing the secularization of subject matter, or the evolution of patronage. But the show's most entwining intellectual thread may be the very question of representational fidelity.

"Why, besides the clerical demand of compelling faith, did what we think of as realism matter so much that it brought forth prodigies of depiction such as Vermeer, Rembrandt and Diego Velazquez?"

Baker's conclusion: "Take any direction through "Botticelli to Braque" and prepare to be blindsided by artistic miracles."

Photos: Courtesy of nationalgalleries.org.

No comments:

Post a Comment