I had this idea that a series of posts drawing attention to small things at the Big Tomb would be worthwhile: stuff for the ten minutes or half hour of attention you have after you’ve seen the big special exhibition. It might be a smaller loan show, but more often would be a bit of the permanent collection, maybe a new case or a rotating exhibition (or even just a single bay). (Disclaimer applies, of course, see ABOUT.)
Two paintings freshly on view in the European Paintings galleries will serve as the launch. One’s Italian, sixteenth century; one’s French, early seventeenth. The later picture was the earlier to arrive, just a few weeks ago: Valentin de Boulogne’s c 1626 The Lute Player. He is hanging in the French classical room (turn right from the hall at the top of the main stairs, through the glass doors (“Harry Payne Bingham Galleries”) and past the small Tiepolo sketches) along with Poussin and Georges de la Tour, and on second view Valentin’s very Italian, Caravaggesque style seems a little out of place there. It’s nice to have him across a doorway from the Laurent de la Hyre muse with an archlute from about 20 years later, though the instrumental pairing may even throw the difference in styles into a brighter light. And if you duck through that doorway and look left you’ll find another, later French plucked-string player, Watteau’s c 1720 Mezzetin with his long skinny fingers. Of course the Valentin picture caught my attention particularly because of all the lute-players I know; when I mentioned it to a couple their eyes got very keen and, “How many courses?” they asked. Stutteringly, I had to confess I hadn’t counted. (It appears to be eight, of which the top and bottom are single, for 14 strings total.) Grant and Tony were dubious about the player’s left-hand position, and, sadly, the music book open on the table has no legible notation. Still, it’s a beautiful picture.
The other painting I had in mind doesn’t belong to the Museum; it’s a loan from a private collector, it’s a late work (c 1592) by Jacopo Bassano, and it represents the Baptism of Christ in a dark, gloomy setting, the bodies of John and Christ curving concentrically as John raises a shell-full of water to spill on a head that, bowed and sorrowful, already reflects the suffering of the crucifixion still to come. The dove of the Holy Ghost glimmers above, and one of the three handsome young angels clustered on the left to hold Christ’s drapery looks right at it. The paint is thin and agitated. To find it, bear straight back on the right side from the first Eur Paintings gallery, all the way back, and then turn right; Bassano hangs with his Venetian co-masters, Titian and Veronese; it’s Gallery 8, if I recall correctly.