By Charles Kessler
The Philadelphia Museum of Art
|Gallery 297 – Drawing Room from the Lansdowne House, London, England, c.1766-75, designed by Robert Adam with decorations by Giovanni Battista Cipriani.|
is known for its many period rooms. These rooms have their good points. They're exotic and mysterious — qualities art tends to lose after becoming familiar. And, of course, they place art in the type of room it was originally intended for, which can be enlightening (like how the smaller Dutch paintings don't look so small in those cozy Dutch interiors).
The down side is paintings tend to get lost among all that furniture, wallpaper, drapery and ornate moldings. To make matters worse, some entire rooms are hidden because they're off to the side or just get lost in the confusing layout of the galleries. So this visit I was determined to make a concerted effort to dig out paintings I overlooked in the past — and it was like discovering a whole new great art museum!
|Gallery 262, Room with Paneling in the Jacobean Style, made in England, c.1625.|
Here are my favorite discoveries, along with information (derived mostly from the museum's website) about each of the works. I also provided a link to the PMA webpage about the work and the location of the painting in the museum in case you want to try to find it yourself someday.
This is one of the PMA's most famous paintings, and that I missed it all these years illustrates my point. Rembrandt, following Caravaggio's lead, used a real person (one of his neighbors in the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam) as a model for his depiction of Christ rather than an idealized or conventional stereotype. This painting is probably the one a 1656 inventory mentioned as hanging in Rembrandt's studio, and it's one of the few paintings that Rembrandt's family kept.
This Gainsborough is considered an excellent example of eighteenth-century English pictorial landscape, and it was probably a complete invention, i.e., not done from nature. The PMA website quotes Sir Joshua Reynolds's description of Gainsborough's working method:
From the fields he brought into his painting-room, stumps of trees, weeds, and animals of various kinds; and designed them, not from memory, but immediately from the objects. He even framed a kind of model of landscape, on his table; composed of broken stones, dried herbs, and pieces of looking glass, which he magnified and improved into rocks, trees, and water.
As with many of his paintings, Delacroix took the subject of this painting from a poem by Lord Byron. It is about the death of Sardanapalus
, the Assyrian king who, besieged by enemies, decides to kill himself, and, narcissist that he was, take all his favorite possessions with him — including his slaves and wives! This painting is a small version of a large painting (now at the Louvre) that was highly criticized when Delacroix first exhibited it, but the painting was to launch the Romantic art movement and Delacroix's career. Delacroix probably made this smaller version so he could keep a copy for himself.
I love Early Mannerist painting
, so I was delighted to find these great paintings by Pontormo and Bronzino. Both portraits are of Medici Dukes, and they serve to show the difference between private and public portraiture. Pontormo, rather than painting an heroic, official image, created this pensive, if strange, portrait. According to the webpage about the painting, it might refer to fourteenth-century love sonnets by Petrarch about some drawings his beloved gave to him. I don't know what this typically Mannerist erudite subject has to do with Alessandro, but whatever.
On the other hand, there is this typically erotic and bizarre painting by Bronzino, Pontormo's devoted pupil. It is of Cosimo I de' Medici, who became duke in 1537 after the assassination of his cousin Alessandro. Bronzino's slick style (what we'd call corporate today) flattered power and was to influence court portraiture for centuries.
And finally, speaking of hidden masterpieces, next to the Barnes on the way up the hill to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, there is an entire museum that's relatively unknown – the Rodin Museum
. Definitely worth checking out,
|The Rodin Museum, 2151 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA, 19130.|
if just to see this alone:
|Auguste Rodin, The Gates of Hell, modeled 1880-1917, cast 1926-28, bronze, about 21 x 13 x 3 feet.|