Friday, November 14, 2014

An Autumnal Abundance of Art -- New York 2014 UPDATED

The New York art museum scene is never dull, but at most times it seems manageable.  Occasionally, however, it erupts with the force of a volcano and it's hard to know what to look at first.  This autumn promises to be one such time.  With a few exceptions every major museum is planning something amazing within the period from now till the end of the year.  Here's a rundown of shows that might be of interest to readers of this blog.

I'll start with the METROPOLITAN MUSEUM (Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street) where I volunteer.  Currently on view are the following:
In Miniature (open till December 31).  This is a small show of delicate European miniature portraits from two distinct eras, that occupies just one room, .  One of the groups comes from Tudor England and the other from late 18th and early 19th century France.  The English group is of particular interest because of two portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger.  The sitters were William Roper and Margaret More Roper, the daughter and son-in-law of St. Thomas More. 
Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age (open till January 4, 2015).  A stunning review of the art of the Ancient Near East as it traveled the Mediterranean trade routes from its original homeland in Iraq through Palestine, Crete, Italy and as far as the Iberian peninsula.  There are fabulous items on loan from the British Museum.  And don't forget to visit the Met's own Ancient Near Eastern galleries, where similar items are on display.  This is the world in which much of the Old Testament was set.
Grand Design:  Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry (open till January 11, 2015). Tapestry is an often overlooked form of art in the present day.  But in the late medieval period and the Renaissance it was one of the most important and visible forms of decoration for those who could afford it. The tapestries designed by Coecke van Aelst rivaled those of Raphael and may even have surpassed them. The works on display are in fabulous condition, the large areas woven in gold thread are still gleaming.  Also features some wonderful altarpieces by the artist and a good display on how tapestries are made.
Cubism:  The Leonard Lauder Collection (open till February 16, 2015).  This is the long-anticipated presentation to the public of Leonard Lauder's planned gift of his great collection of Cubist art to the museum.  This gift moves the Met's Modern collection from the second tier of collections to the top tier. Judging by the amount of interest shown in it even before it opened, this will probably be a very popular exhibition.
Thomas Hart Benton's America Today Mural Rediscovered (open till April 19, 2015).  Presents Benton's huge mural, once installed at the New School's boardroom, and recently donated to the museum along with preparatory drawings and paintings and other related materials.  The mural is installed to replicate its original placement and offers Benton's reflections on the reality of life in the United States in the 1920s, including the good, the bad and some of the ugly in a nation at work and play, from the farm to industry to city life.  It's already very popular.
Also currently worth a look are: Amie Siegel:  Provenance (open till January 4, 2015), Kimono: A Modern History (open till January 19, 2015), Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire (open till February 1, 2015), and Thomas Struth: Photographs (open till February 16, 2015).
El Greco in New York (opening November 4 and running till February 1, 2015).  This will be a combined exhibition of the El Greco holdings from the Met and from the Hispanic Society of America, a too-little known museum devoted to the art of Spain and Spanish America that is located in upper Manhattan, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the master's death.  See also the El Greco exhibition that the Frick will be mounting at the same time.
Bartholomeus Spranger:  Splendor and Eroticism in Imperial Prague (opening November 4 and running till February 1, 2015).  Spranger was an important Northern Mannerist and this is the first exhibition devoted to him in the United States.  The Northern Mannerists produced paintings that display the impact of the High Renaissance and Italian Mannerist painting on the jewel-like art of the Low Countries and lands of the Holy Roman Empire.  It should be interesting.  

The Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Creche (opens November 25 and closes January 6, 2015). This is the beloved annual display of the Baroque creche figures given to the museum by the late Loretta Hines Howard and her family (and overseen by them) that reminds New Yorkers and visitors alike of the real reason for all the hoopla of the festive season.  It isn't Christmas in New York until you see this tree and its surrounding figures.

And on your way in and out don't forget to notice the newly opened David H. Koch Plaza.  It's really nice and a vast improvement on the past!  Whatever your opinion of Mr. Koch, this was an amazingly generous gift to the museum and the city.

UPDATE!  On November 11th the Met unveiled the greatly missed statue of Adam by Tullio Lombardo, one of the great sculptors of the Venetian High Renaissance.
 The Adam is the first life-sized nude marble statue since
antiquity and the most important Italian Renaissance sculpture in North America.   In October 2002 the plywood support for the statue buckled, sending the famous statue to the marble floor of the gallery in which it was displayed and breaking it into 28 major and dozens of small fragments.  It has taken all of twelve years to complete the restoration.  The small exhibition surrounding the unveiling of the restored Adam demonstrates the process.

Now, on to other locations:
The MORGAN LIBRARY has one exhibition of intense interest.
The Crusader Bible:  A Gothic Masterpiece (closes January 4, 2015).  While this great manuscript, illustrating parts of the Old Testament, is in process of getting a new binding, 40 of the 46 pages owned by the Morgan will be on display.  The manuscript dates from the mid-twelfth century and may have been painted for St. Louis (Louis IX of France).  Its wanderings are rather amazing too! Check them out on the exhibition website .

The MUSEUM OF BIBLICAL ART is showing a traveling print exhibition, Dürer, Rembrandt, Tiepolo: The Jansma Master Prints Collection from the Grand Rapids Art Museum.   The exhibition will also include additional items not from the Jansma collection.  

And finally, THE FRICK COLLECTION is presenting two exhibitions, one from its own collections and one traveling exhibitions.

El Greco at the Frick Collection (opening November 4 and running till February 1, 2015).  This exhibition of the three great El Grecos in the Frick will be specially displayed concurrently with the El Greco exhibition at the Met.
Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery (opening November 5 and running till February 1, 2015). This is a display of a small portion of the works from the Scottish National Galleries that will also be traveling to San Francisco and Fort Worth later in 2015 and will include works from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century that compliment works in the Frick.

In addition the Museum of Modern Art is currently running Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs (running till February 8, 2015) which might be of interest as well.  The Guggenheim and Neue Gallerie are not currently running exhbitions that reflect the concerns of this blog, but that's OK.  They just ended spectacular shows on Futurism and on Degenerate Art:  the Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany that were well worth visits.   The Whitney Museum of Art just wound up its successful Jeff Koons exhibition and is preparing for its move from Madison Avenue to the Meatpacking District early next year.  The galleries are closed.

So, if you are in the New York area at any time between now and early February 2015 there is a LOT to see. Enjoy it all!

© M. Duffy, 2014

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Last Resurrection

Resurrection of the Dead
from Book of Hours
French (Rouen), 1450-1500
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 3134, fol. 67v
Jesus said to the crowds:
“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me,
and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,
because I came down from heaven not to do my own will
but the will of the one who sent me.
And this is the will of the one who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,
but that I should raise it on the last day.
For this is the will of my Father,
that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him
may have eternal life,
and I shall raise him on the last day.”
John 6:37-40 (Gospel for the feast of All Souls)

This year we are in the somewhat unusual situation where Sunday falls on November 2, the feast of All Souls, or as it is now called The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.  Consequently, the readings are a reflection of the theme of the day, the eventual resurrection of all the faithful departed at the end of time.   This is the opening scene of the Last Judgment, also called the Second Coming of Christ, when Jesus will “come again to judge the living and the dead”, as both the Apostles’ and the Nicene creeds tell us.

The Last Judgment is one of the most often imagined scenes in the entire history of art.  At one time nearly every church had a rendition of it, either as a painting or as sculpture.  The great cathedrals of medieval Europe, both Romanesque and Gothic, usually included the scene in the tympanum of their central portals.  If it was not there, it could be found elsewhere.  Most parish churches, no matter how modest, usually included the painted scene in their interiors.  Painters, both north and south, included it among their works and some of the greatest artists are known for their versions, among them Rogier van der Weyden and, of course, Michelangelo. 

But it is the detail at the beginning, the subject of today’s Gospel, the raising of the dead that I will be looking at here.   How do these artists imagine that event to be?  In what way do they see the dead coming back to life?
Resurrection of the Dead
from Book of Pericopes of Henry II
German (Reichenau), 1007-1012
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek
MS Clm 4452, fol. 201v
The earliest image that I have been able to find in a brief survey of resources comes from the justly famous Book of Pericopes (readings for the Mass) painted at the monastery of Reichenau for the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II in 1007-1008.  The scene is fairly simply set.  The angels blow their trumpets, while devils spit and the dead arise from their graves.  Almost all the dead seem happy to be awakened, although one man, right in the middle of the bottom half of the image, seems a bit confused by the event and another seems to be making a sign of annoyance toward one of the angels. But on the whole, the mood is a happy one.

Nicholas of Verdun, Resurrection of the Dead
from Klosterneuburg Altarpiece
Belgian, 1181
Klosterneuburg, Monastery Church
One hundred and eighty years later the mood seems to be similar in the plaque from the great Klosterneuburg Altarpiece by Nicholas of Verdun.    Some of the dead spring from their tombs,  while others seem a bit dazed. 

However, a more somber mood had already begun to appear.  The Last Judgment scene had begun to appear as the primary decoration over the entrance portals of the Romanesque cathedrals.  The idea of a self-judgment by each of the dead begins to appear.  Not all arise in the expectation of a heavenly destination.

At Autun Cathedral in the Burgundy region of eastern France, one of the greatest of these cycles, by the sculptor Gislebertus, was completed between 1130 and 1146.  Gislebertus tells his story in almost comic book fashion.  His souls arise as already marked by their eventual destination.  Those who are destined for Paradise arise with joy. 

Gislebertus, Saved Souls Rising
French, 1130-1146
Autun, Cathedral

While those who are destined for Hell arise with fear.  
Gislebertus, Damned Souls Rising
French, 1130-1146
Autun, Cathedral

As they come to the moment of final judgment, the fear of the damned turns to horror as they are dragged into the claws of the devils that transport them to Hell.  
Gislebertus, The Damned
French, 1130-1146
Autun, Cathedral

Meanwhile the saved rejoice and cling to the angels who have awakened them like small children clinging to their mothers.
Gislebertus, Saved Souls
French, 1130-1146
Autun, Cathedral

Still, the awakening of the dead continued to be a source of rejoicing or at least a cause of hope for most of the souls shown being raised in all the representations of the event in all of medieval Europe.   Most images of the raising of the dead present the souls rising filled with hope and joy, marked by their gestures of prayer or rejoicing.  Those images in which the entire Last Judgment scene is shown reflect the same division between hopeful saved and fear-filled damned as was seen in the Romanesque Last Judgments. 
Souls Rising
from Last Judgment
French, 1230
Reims, Cathedral
Souls Rising
from Last Judgment
German (Saxon), ca. 1300
Zschella, Evangelical Church of the Trinity

Giotto, Saints and Resurrection of the Dead
from Last Judgment
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena Chapel
Master of the Parement de Narbonne, Resurrection of the Dead
from Tres Belles Heures of Jean de Berry
French (Paris), ca. 1380
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 3093, fol. 169

Resurrection of the Dead
from Last Judgment
German , 1401-1415
Herzberg, Church of St. Mary
Lorenzo Monaco, Resurrection of the Dead
from Antiphonary
Italian, 1406
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection

Robinet Testard, Resurrection of the Dead
from Book of Hours
French (Poitiers), 1470-1480
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M1001, fol. 109r

Master of the Orleans Triptych, Resurrection of the Dead
French, ca. 1500
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection

After the Black Death ravaged the population of Europe in the fourteenth century images of death became more macabre, making the images of the Last Judgment more horrifying, at least for the damned.  
Master of the Triumphs of Petrarch
from Allegory of the Victory of Fame
French (Rouen), 1503
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 594, fol. 178v
The saved still rise with hope and joy, but the damned begin to show more fear and horror. 

We can see this in the scenes from several famous works, by Rogier van der Weyden (and other northern artists who followed him), Luca Signorelli and, of course, Michelangelo.
Rogier van der Weyden, Last Judgment Polyptych
Netherlandish, 1446-1452
Beaune, Musee de l'Hotel Dieu

Rogier van der Weyden, The Saved
Rogier van der Weyden, The Damned

Jan Prevost, Last Judgment
Belgian, 1525
Bruges, Groeninge Museum

Lucas van Leyden, Last Judgment
Dutch, 1527
Leiden, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal

Luca Signorelli, Resurrection of the Dead
Italian, 1499-1502
Orvieto, Chapel of San Brizio

Michelangelo, Last Judgment
Italian, 1437-1541
Vatican City, Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo’s vision of the Last Judgment became the paradigm followed by most subsequent artists.  The dead are seen to be heaving themselves from the earth and violently expressing their hope or fear.  
Jean Cousin, Last Judgment
French, 1585
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Hieronymous Francken, Last Judgment
Flemish, 1605-1610
Salzburg, Residenzgalerie

Frans Francken II, Last Judgment
Flemish, 1608
Private Collection
Rubens, Last Judgment
Flemish, 1617
Munich, Alte Pinakothek

The element of fear begins to become more evident with each new image, until it begins to be the dominant emotion.  The earlier calm and joyful rising no longer held the imagination in the way that it once did.  

However, the element of joy and peace returned with the Romantic era and was joined to the sentimental idea of reunion between lovers and families.  This spirit continues into the current era.
Victor Mottez, Resurrection of the Dead
French, 1870
Lille, Musee des Beaux-Arts
Stanley Spencer, Resurrection, Cookham
English, 1924-1927
London, Tate Gallery
© M. Duffy, 2014