Art. History. Culture.
Day Two was spent in the lovely Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. This iconic institution, named after its founder, a wealthy connoisseur of art who lived from 1840-1924, is nestled in Boston’s Fenway among lovely college campuses and in close proximity to the Museum of Fine Arts. The Gardner museum consists of Gardner’s palace, an incredible 4 floor building with a courtyard at its center designed like an Italian Grotto, and a new building attached to house the museum’s cafe, shop, library, special exhibition galleries, and administrative offices.
I began in the Palace, which took me approximately 4 hours to maneuver. The gist is that you wander through each room of the Palace, examining treasures of every variety, from rococo French furniture to Garnder’s personal bookcases to Gothic pulpits to Medieval paintings and beyond. Each room allows visitors intimate proximity to the objects, sensing Isabella’s desire for her collection to touch as many souls as possible. It is a veritable labyrinth of objects. So much that it was impossible to view everything. The experience was unbelievable; what an amazing thing to see such a collection inside of the United States. European and American art dominate the Gardner, with an impressive representation of Asian art as well.
One complaint about the Gardner – nothing is labeled. To navigate the collection, guests have to use room guides in each section which consist of large, laminated cards with maps of the room on them in which each object in the room is assigned a number. Under the map the numbers are listed, with the information of the corresponding object. This pretty much sucked, because if you’re like me and want information about every work of art, you have to figure it out by looking at a room map instead of a label right next to the object like you would have in normal galleries. I talked to a few security officers about this, complaining that the room maps somewhat take away from your connection with the object. They each told me they get constant complaints about the room guides but that nothing can be done to change it, because Isabella stated in her will how this ought to be. While I think this might have turned out slightly contradictory to her vision of an intimate connection with the collection, I understand. It just took forever to figure things out. You end up spending more time looking at the room guide to get information than you do actually looking at the art.
As I mentioned when I posted about Day One, I take notes when in museums about things I want to remember, musings on the art works, and general in-gallery observations. I’ll continue with snippets below from my stream of consciousness.
John Singer Sargent was good buddies with Isabella.
El Jaleo, 1882.
“This canvas is colossal. The frame alone looks like it could weigh 2 metric shit-tons.”
Absolutely no cell phone use allowed in the museum. Even if you are texting, you are scolded by the guards and asked to take it outside. I give this two thumbs up of enthusiastic approval.
On March 18, 1990, two jerks disguised as cops infiltrated the Gardner in the middle of the night and stole a number of treasures, including a number of Rembrandts (among them his only known seascape, A Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633, see below), Degas drawings, and a Vermeer amongst other things. The works of art have not been recovered. The Dutch Room of the Gardner’s Palace hangs empty frames where the stolen Rembrandts and other works once hung. The museum leaves them up in the hopes the works will be returned. My heart aches to see these empty frames on the wall. Such a crime against culture.
Titian, Europa, c. 1560-62.
This work looks incredibly and obviously sexual. Zeus in the disguise of a bull carries off the lovely Europa on his back, her legs spread wide with a light garment barely flowing in between them. She has a firm grip on one of the bull’s horns, again a very sexually provocative gesture. Foreshadowing their interlude of ecstasy are a group of putti framing the action in the foreground, two above and two below. The composition is very interesting; the foreground very abrupt with a sprawling vista just beyond the group of figures.
Special Exhibition: Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini: Sculptors’ Drawings from Renaissance Italy.
This show begs the question: Why did sculptors draw?
“There’s a hipster kid standing 6 inches from one of Bernini’s drawings, sketching a copy of it. He is wearing a girl’s headband in his hair with a large blue, sparkly flower on it. I wish he would get out of the way so I can see the drawing. You don’t own this space bro. If the museum gave you permission to sketch, they would give you stool like a normal person.”
Added bonus, while I was refueling at the cafe, two staff members, the hostess and one of the waiters, suddenly began singing opera. Like, legit, tenor and soprano opera. They appeared to be serenading an attractive young couple seated where they were standing. I caught the word “amore” a few times in the midst of the libretto. The dude looked positively mortified. The girl was cheesing hardcore. This is clearly just a day job for these two staffers, such amazing talent! The whole dining room erupted in applause when they were done. Then the tenor went back to the kitchen and the soprano went back to the hostess podium.