Thursday, May 12, 2016

Philadelphia Museum of Art

I took the above photo on Thursday last week. On Friday, the weather had descended from overcast to pure crap. So it was a perfect day to go to the museum.

I have to admit that I was a bit trepidatious. I had a whole afternoon to, um, kill; I wondered how long I'd last at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As it turned out, I was surprised. I enjoyed myself. Perhaps part of it was because I was by myself and I didn't have to worry about how someone I was with might be reacting to what I was seeing. It was just me, myself and I.

This was by itself a source of, well, "unknown-ness." I wrote yesterday about how I felt "hollow" when I was at Independence Historical Park. I had felt very alone there. I was reminded of when I traveled to Europe for the first time in the spring of 1982. I journeyed with a college friend (who was studying in Paris) to Rome, Florence and Switzerland, then headed by myself to London. I had planned to spend several days there, then head north to Scotland. But I found, upon arrival in London, that I felt so utterly alone that I decided to cancel the rest of my trip and fly back to the States the very next day.

Me in St. Peter's Square, Rome, 1982

I was therefore surprised when I didn't feel this sense of "alone-ness" when I started meandering through the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I instead found myself actually enjoying the experience as I wandered from room to room in the "European Art" section of the museum.

Part of this was attributable, I think, to a game I had devised for myself when Mark and I toured the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam last fall (which I wrote about here): I focused on paintings of men. It was fun ... and fascinating.

The above picture is of Jacopino del Conte's "Portrait of a Gentleman." One of the things I found fascinating as I strolled from painting to painting in the European section was noticing the dress of the subjects. This gentleman's dress is not remarkable, but I found his gaze - and his fingers - interesting.

The next two paintings pictured are by Simon Vouet, a French artist who is credited with helping to bring the Italian baroque to France. He painted the following two paintings while in Rome in the 1620's. The first is of the evangelist, Saint Luke. I found the depiction utterly fascinating. This guy looks like a hipster who could (but for the dress, perhaps) work for Apple, Google or Twitter. He is so ... young and ... those eyes - disengaged? And I don't know what was with his hands. I'm sure an art historian could explain it.

The next painting by Vouet was of John the Evangelist. I wasn't totally surprised to see him depicted as even younger. Much younger. This is the disciple whom Jesus loved. And he is depicted as almost a boy. Yet perplexed, worried, concerned. With the same enigmatic hand gesture. I found myself wondering about Vouet's model for this portrait. A young Roman boy. Who was he?

Now, for something completely different. I was captivated by the portrait of Benjamin Franklin pictured below, which was painted by a woman, Anne-Rosalie Bocquet Filleul, in the late 1770's when Franklin was in Paris representing the interests of the young United States of America. I thought it the most human of any portrait of this much-lionized man that I had ever seen. The sculpture of a presumably older Franklin was also interesting.

Continuing with the "man theme," I thought this portrait by Charles Willson Peale also very interesting. Colonel Cadwalader had, I thought, a penetrating gaze, and I wondered what he looked like without his wig. I also wondered whether it was fashionable in those days for handsome men to have pot guts.

I was interested in the sculpture picture below because it is of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, one of the most famous sculptors and architects of the Roman baroque period. I had been privileged to see some of his work during several trips to Rome over the years, such as his fountain in Piazza Navonna (pictured below) that I photographed during our visit last fall.

And, speaking of our trip to Europe last fall, I adored the following two paintings of the city I fell in love with - Venice. The first is The Bucintoro at the Molo on Ascension Day by Canaletto, which shows the Doge's palace and St. Mark's Campanile (bell tower). The second, by Francesco Guardi, is of the Grand Canal and features San Simone Piccolo and Santa Lucia. It immediately reminded me of my favorite photo that I took in Venice (taken from a different angle), pictured below the photograph of the painting.

Another aspect of the Philadelphia Museum that I enjoyed were the many rooms (including wood paneling, stone work, etc.) that had been transplanted from places in England, France, Germany, Japan, China and elsewhere. Although I haven't been to a lot of museums across America, I had never seen anything like this. It gave a real feeling of being in Europe or Asia.

Several rooms from British country houses

A twelfth-century fountain from a French abbey

Ceiling from a 15th-century Chinese monastery

So, an interesting afternoon. I left the museum feeling enriched, and I'm sure some of this feeling was  attributable to the fact that I knew I was going to blog about the experience. This made me look for things, notice things, appreciate things that I might not have otherwise. This is one of the reasons I decided to continue blogging: doing do forces me to look more carefully at life.

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