Dear Art Lover,|
There are so many good artists out there, even if one limits the conversation to the art in the museums. You could confine your search to a style, a time period, or even a country, and still be overwhelmed. I went to visit the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, last month with a friend. While I have seen many of the paintings before, it is always interesting when the museum rearranges works because you see the art related to other pieces in a new way and often take a fresh look at a familiar "face."
Recently The National Gallery of Canada in Ottowa added a new painting to its listing of exhibited works in the show that began on June 17. The painting of Saint Augustine was discovered in a private collection in Britain after being lost for hundreds of years and is now being attributed to Caravaggio.
Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) became known for his dramatic use of chiaroscuro (light and dark), as well as his depicting "normal" (vs. idealized or aristocratic) people in his often religious-themed paintings. Now, I did not get my art education the usual way and thus, am still trying to learn a lot about art history, but this painting did not look like a Caravaggio to me. I do not have a problem being wrong on something I know little about, especially when I have not thoroughly educated myself on the topic or even seen the real painting, but I would not mind seeing more information on this one.
The painting was dated when the artist was 28 years old or the year 1600. The leading scholar on this (and co-author of the book coming out with the new attribution proclaimed), Sebastian Schütze, explained that the painting was never thought to be as dramatic as the work of the well-known Caravaggio until the work was restored.
The reason that statement caught my attention has to do with some of my past experiences in Florence, Italy. Now, let me preface: Many things are discovered when we go looking, as well as when we clean up and organize things we already have in our possession. That is natural. And treasures need a good dusting off once in a while. In addition, of course, once we really LOOK at something, we notice so much more.
That said, many years ago I attended a lecture at the Charles Cecil art school in Florence. It was given by Richard Serrin and was about how the restoration of the Sistine Chapel not only ruined it with non-fresco and overly bright colors, but also changed much of the design work that Michelangelo completed. Mr. Serrin's slides give an incredible and compelling argument. Later on, one of my streetpainting colleagues had confided to me that she wanted to learn how to draw in a more classical style as I do. Her studies were in restoration and did not cover the usual training that fine artists receive. This completely surprised me since I had the assumption that most restorers were technically proficient artists who did not want to deal with the complexities of producing and selling their own fine art. Restoration gave them a paycheck while keeping them involved in the art world and they kept learning and using their skills. After asking around a bit, I understand that most restorers do not receive fine art training to the level of fine artists.
So, back to my visit to the Blanton Museum . . . I had admired quite a large painting titled "Flora" by Sebastiano Ricci (Italian 1659-1734). Lately I have been studying classical paintings and sculpture to see how artists used composition to help tell a story. Composition is sometimes used by artists to hint at a figure's future or past. Almost every character in mythology and the religions around the world has specific attributes or symbols to identify them and often describe what they represent. Much of that is lost on today's audiences and thankfully, the museums give interesting write-ups to help viewers see what the artists' contemporary public understood.