02 January 2012

Italian Afternoon at the Met

"Portrait of a Young Lady" Antonio del Pollaiuolo (ca. 1465)

Every year the Metropolitan Museum of Art displays a huge Christmas tree in its Medieval Sculpture Hall. With Neapolitan Crèche figurines adorning its branches and base, the tree is absolutely stunning. The day before Christmas I decided I would run up to the Met, see the tree, and then come back home and get ready for the holiday. But after viewing the tree, I got sidetracked.

First it was by the nearby period rooms in the French Decorative Arts galleries. They were all lovely but I especially liked the Boiserie from the Palais Paar in Vienna, circa 1765–72. See the small dog kennel under the window on the right? It’s so Marie Antoinette.

And the cosy room from a hotel in the Cours d'Albret in Bordeaux, circa 1785, was just perfect for a cold winter day. Wouldn’t you love to play cards in there? 

"Madonna and Child" Giovanni Bellini (ca. 1470)

But the afternoon was to belong to the Italians. After stopping to view the exhibit "Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400-1515," which included the season appropriate painting "Madonna and Child," I headed upstairs to see the larger exhibit “The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini.” Room after room, I gazed upon the myriad faces of politicians, merchants, wives, children, and a Medici or two, all of which left one with a better idea of what people in the 15th century really looked like. Although the Renaissance version of photoshop is no doubt at play in some of the portraits, there were enough noses (cauliflower and large) and double chins on display to make one believe these are, for the most part, fairly truthful depictions.

"Portrait of a Lady ("Simonetta Vespucci") Botticelli (ca. 1475-80)

"Portrait of a Lady ("Simonetta Vespucci") Botticelli (ca. 1475-80)

With that said, I went for the pretty and favoured a bust of Beatrice of Aragon by Francesco Laurana and two Botticelli portraits. Hung side by side, they are supposedly of the most beautiful woman in Florence, Simonetta Vespucci, who Botticelli was reportedly in love with (he requested to be buried at her feet, which he was in the Church of Ognissanti). Besides reminding me of Uma Thurman (don't you see the resemblance?), the two exquisite portraits make one understand why, idealised or not, she was dubbed "la bella Simonetta."

If you can, go see this exhibit. I liked it so much, I'm thinking of spending another afternoon with the Italians at the Met. 

“The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini” runs through March 18, 2012 at the Met.

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