Botticelli: Madonna and Child and Young St. John the Baptist

I forgot to mention this strange, haunting masterpiece from late in Botticelli’s life (now leaving the Museum of Fine Arts):

Note a great photo, sorry. The writer of this article noticed what I noticed: the Virgin and Child have the same face, almost–certainly the same expression. And they seem to be pushing their way off the canvas. What’s going on?

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Botticelli, Matisse, Big Papi

We went to the Museum of Fine Arts to see its exhibitions on Matisse and Botticelli. (Sorry you missed them.) Here is my favorite Matisse: (“Red Interior: Still Life on a Blue Table”, from 1947):

My wife’s favorite was “The Burning Bush” from 1951:

And here is my favorite Botticelli: “Saint Augustine in His Study”, a fresco from 1480:

It’s also the summer of David Ortiz at the MFA. Here’s a display of Big Papi’s three World Series rings and his World Series MVP ring from 2013:

Did Botticelli or Matisse ever accomplish anything comparable to what Big Papi accomplished in 2013? Of course not. Will Big Papi still be remembered half a millennium after his death, like Botticelli? Of course he will. Why are you even asking these questions?

My favorite object at the Harvard Art Museums

An ancient Greek grave stele of a young girl:

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The description reads:

Melisto, daughter of Ktesikrates, holds a doll in her left hand and a bird in the right, and looks down toward the furry little dog springing up at her from the right. She wears a simple girt chiton, like a nightgown.

A girl with a doll and her pets.  So much more interesting than busts of Roman emperors.

Who doesn’t like MORE busts of Roman emperors?

For some reason, one of my most popular post here was this one showing some busts of Roman emperors from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.  I was at the Harvard Art Museums the other day, and guess what?  More busts!

Here’s the Emperor Tiberius:

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He’s not looking all that great, if you ask me.  The accompanying description says the bust was probably sculpted when he was in his early sixties.  Read Tom Holland’s book Dynasty for an interesting discussion of this tortured soul.

Here is Lucius Verus, who ruled for a while in the second century AD with his adoptive brother Marcus Aurelius.

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Note the beard, which became fashionable for emperors starting with Hadrian earlier in the century.

Finally, here’s a full statue (well, almost full) of the Emperor Trajan:

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The description in the Harvard catalog suggests that he was probably holding a spear in his left hand.

Trajan was one of the best of the Roman emperors.  Wikipedia says:

As an emperor, Trajan’s reputation has endured – he is one of the few rulers whose reputation has survived nineteen centuries. Every new emperor after him was honored by the Senate with the wish felicior Augusto, melior Traiano (that he be “luckier than Augustus and better than Trajan”). Among medieval Christian theologians, Trajan was considered a virtuous pagan. In the Renaissance, Machiavelli, speaking on the advantages of adoptive succession over heredity, mentioned the five successive good emperors “from Nerva to Marcus”[2] – a trope out of which the 18th-century historian Edward Gibbon popularized the notion of the Five Good Emperors, of whom Trajan was the second.[3]

Once you’ve finished reading Dynasty, you should read the wonderful SPQR  by Mary Beard, for a fuller view of a thousand years of ancient Rome.

Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer

As usual, I didn’t make it to the latest big exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts till the next-to-last weekend, on a rainy Sunday where everyone else in the city seemed to have the same idea.

It was great, although the crowds made it a bit exhausting.  They wouldn’t let you take photographs, so here are images from the Internet.

Here was my favorite Rembrandt, “The Ship-Builder and His Wife”:

I like paintings where you’re not quite sure what’s going on.  This is almost always true of Vermeer paintings.  There were two Vermeers in the exhibit.  Here is “Lady Writing a Letter”:

Is she thinking about her next sentence?  Is she looking at someone?

And here is Vermeer’s “The Astronomer”:

I’ve seen both of these Vermeers before, in Washington and Paris, so I didn’t add to my Vermeer life list.

My favorite painting at the exhibition was this one by Pieter de Hooch, “The Courtyard of a House in Delft”:

Which reminds one of Vermeer’s similar painting, “Little Street”, viewing Delft houses from the street rather than from the courtyard:

Here is an interesting essay comparing both of these great paintings:

Vermeer’s Street in Delft is a greater painting than de Hooch’s, but far harder to write about. Where de Hooch is essentially a moralising painter, an artist for whom images define correct or incorrect social behaviour, Vermeer’s ethical credentials have always seemed somewhat suspect. Reticent, forever withholding or obstructing easy reading of his pictures, Vermeer remains a thoroughly enigmatic artist.

He appraises the houses that are his subject in Street in Delft not from the back but from the front, and at a greater distance than de Hooch in his Courtyard. Although Vermeer’s picture includes genre-like details – the two children in front of the gabled house to the right, playing knucklebones; the woman sewing in the doorway; the other woman, seen through the open doorway to the right, bending over a tub – their diminished scale robs them of the aura, so strong in the de Hooch, of role models, figures meant in some way to instruct. Their faces, moreover, are left blank. This is possibly the most striking example of where Vermeer’s painting differs most fundamentally from de Hooch’s: namely in the daring quality of its realism, its intermittent, inconsistent, variable nature.

Several views of Mount Fuji

The spectacular Hosukai exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts ended today, and I finally managed to get there.  I took bunches of photos, none of which do justice to the originals.  I’ll post just a few of them today.

Hokusai’s greatest hit was the series of landscape prints called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.  Here’s the greatest hit of that greatest hit, “The Great Wave of Kanagawa”:

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And here’s “Umezawa in Sagami Province“:

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And “Tsukuda Island in Musashi Province“:

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And “South Wind, Clear Sky”:

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As a special bonus, here is an MFA favorite, Monet’s portrait of his wife in Japanese costume, “La Japonaise”:

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