Pictures at an exhibition...

I've used several paintings by El Greco to illustrate my posts and mentioned a while back that there's currently an exhibit including some of his works at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Yesterday afternoon I went with a friend to the exhibit and it was all and more than I hoped it would be. I'm not a frequent museum-goer and it's been some time since I've been at the MFA. Given that it was late afternoon on the night before the Fourth, the crowds were light and passage through the galleries was easy and unencumbered. The whole experience of the museum building itself and the particular exhibit I'd come to see made for a very peaceful time, time good for the soul...

Here's how the MFA touts the event:
This groundbreaking exhibition examines a fascinating period (1598–1621) bracketed by the two giants of Spanish painting, El Greco and Velázquez. Discover the masterpieces of Philip III’s court and the artists who flourished during his reign.

To separate themselves from Philip II’s approach to governing, Philip III and his court "issued in a new style of grandeur" (in the words of their contemporary Gil González d’Avila), where gala celebrations, elaborate religious fiestas, building campaigns, and picture collecting were the order of the day. Much of the art produced at and for the court reflected this style, replacing the austere art created for Philip II with a more naturalistic and emotionally expressive art that became the hallmark of Philip III’s reign.

"El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III" features paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts—including a partial recreation of the camarín of the Duke of Lerma, the most important non-royal collector in Europe at the time and the favorite of Philip III—organized around themes such as portraiture, religion and the court, and the birth of still life.
One thing the exhibit sets out to do and accomplishes masterfully is to situate the work of El Greco in the context of the art scene of his time. The flourishing of religiously emotive works is at every turn in the galleries here. The subject matter of these masters and the artistic expression they're given easily draws the viewer into the spirituality of late 16th/early 17th century Catholicism and the Counter Reformation. The influence of Ignatian spirituality and the potential for objets d'art to draw the viewer into prayer and contemplation is not only illustrated in the exhibit but also functions precisely so! Standing before so many of these paintings I thought how one might spend hours, not minutes, studying and being drawn into them.

I only took a few spare notes but one portion that stands out for me is the small collection of Marian images under the title Immaculada and this before the Immaculate Conception was defined as dogma by the Church. In fact, this art represented a burgeoning movement from the grassroots of Catholicism to proclaim what Christians had come to believe firmly, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was conceived without sin.

One can't walk among these works without marveling at how light plays in these paintings. I asked myself any number of times, "In this painting, is the light coming from within the figures? from behind them? is it shining on them?" The illumination is as striking as it is subtle - an apparent contradiction but the only way I know how to phrase it. Perhaps you have to see if for yourself - and that's a good idea!

The image at the top of this post is The Annunciation by El Greco. Even if you never "click on the image to see a larger version," please do it this one time! Like to see more images from the exhibit? Check out the MFA page and click on slideshow.

Have you been to the exhibit? Your impressions? Would you encourage others to go? Love to hear from you!


1 comment:

  1. I so enjoyed this exhibition, rooted in Catholicism. Visiting this exhibition today I was particularly drawn to de Ribera's painting of Sts. Peter and Paul, because your homily last Sunday on these two and their contrasting personalities. Painted in the "apostalado" tradition (a set of 13 paintings that depict Christ + apostles), an older wisened Peter looks at younger, strident Paul as if he is a "johnny-come-lately".

    Absolutely I would recommend a visit. For the first time I connected the mysticism of Teresa of Avila and the spirituality of Ignatious Loyola with El Greco. It's a gift.

    - Jeri Queenan


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