Last chance — Art & Love in Renaissance Italy at the Metropolitan

  • AMOR jewelAbsolutely the last day! The Met’s open today (Mon Feb 16), dash over NOW if you haven’t seen this show. The Presidents would be proud. (Okay, I made that part up.)

    It’s a big show with a lot of stuff, not a stream of acknowledged masterworks, reflecting the domestic, family, and sensual lives of the art-commissioning classes in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy, so here are a few things you might keep an eye out for:

  • If you are interested in Renaissance performance and spectacle, the first room after the entry offers ceramics painted with images of Triumphs and Allegories of Love.
  • There’s lots of musical imagery: see the bowl with the arms of Pope Leo X and the Medici for putti with — is it a trumpet or a shawm? and a triangle. Also the small, beautiful, somewhat mysterious string instrument carved with a loving couple, dog at their feet — go around the back and try to figure out how it was strung and played. Later, see the Garden of Love on a birth tray — what’s love without music?
  • Items domestic and feminine: a comb, needlecases, rings; wonderfully sculptural in its own case, a waffle iron.
  • Family portraits: miniatures by Veneziano, c 1485, from the Met’s own Lehman Collection; a mourning woman by Tintoretto from Dresden, a couple by Lotto from the Hermitage.
  • Books and textiles, in a dimmer room: how to tell fortunes, with books or with the Tarot (Love and Charity from the Beinecke Library), woven bands in amazingly good condition.
  • On birth and children: birth trays, desci da parto, one showing how they were used to present cloths and treats to the new mother; others with startling images of naked baby boys grasping one another’s penises, or Venus with golden rays radiating from her genitals to six worshipping heroes; a solemn portrait of a father, possibly a widower, with his two children, by Moroni.
  • Cassone panels: long narrow paintings from the sides of chests, often given as wedding gifts, with narratives from myth and history. Sometimes the tales of doomed marriages don’t seem very encouraging — Jason and Medea don’t exactly model conjugal happiness. In the same room, don’t miss a small Apollo & Daphne by Pollaiuolo, from the National Gallery, London.
  • Naughty pictures! Everyone’s favorite part, really. From the alllusive (bulgy fruits suggesting [male] body parts) to the humorous (check what that damsel is plucking in her garden) to the outrageous (the theme of the Triumph reaches an, um, peak) to the really straight-ahead porn (Pietro Aretino seems to have been the Larry Flynt of the 16th century). But see the crossover — how a figure from I modi, the highly explicit print series, appears in a moralizing maiolica plate promoting the virtue of chaste marriage.

    And finally: Aahh. After the tension of smut, the relaxation of loveliness: Beautiful ladies, mostly Venetian. The Titian Venus blindfolding Cupid, from the Borghese, is worth the price of entry [whatever that might be for you] all by itself, but also Lotto, Palma Vecchio, Giorgione, and more. Sigh.

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    One thought on “Last chance — Art & Love in Renaissance Italy at the Metropolitan

    1. Karen Wall says:

      I just found your comment to my post on the now sadly defunct Readerville, thanks for linking me to this. I had heard there were a couple of differences between the Metropolitan and the Kimbell shows. In the Kimbell that had a separate room with a warning for the ‘porn’ stuff.

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