Archive for March, 2011

At the Smart

March 11, 2011

So the campus art museum is having a “study break” in honor of reading period, or in other worlds a reception to celebrate the end of class for the quarter. So why not talk about some paintings? I’ll add pics sometime in the next day or two.
So first of all, there are two rather pleasant surprises in the european painting room. One is a cloud study by one Pierre Charles de Valenciennes, who is now on my list of “painters who need to be famous”. It is neither mind-blowing nor ostentatiously a Great Painting, but is interesting little tonal exercise in trying to show the surface of the cloud mainly by a variety of subtle shades of grey, and it manages to effect a bit of variety with very subtle marks of impastoed white. The other nice surprise is a very un-pontlillistic Caillbotte. It’s quite a fine painting of a rural branch of the seine in which a bluish-white water, pale green trees, and a light pink sky that could be either cloudy midday or sunset are linked tonally. It’s a fine painting and both of these would do honor to any museum except the sort that parades giant canvases all over the place. There’s also a temporary show on “The tragic muse”, with works of variable quality. It has the distinct flavor of a show whose works are less interesting than the argument-an “essay show”, if you will. Probably one of the best works in it are a sketch of faces made by Sarah Siddons(a rather famous tragic actress you may know from the Reynolds and Gainsborough portraits). Romney’s effort at seriousness and higmindedness notwithstanding, the painting works best as a sort of summing-up of Siddon’s acting and an (affectionate) caricature thereof. There’s also a Fuseli of the witches from Macbeth, which is a rather fine chance for Fuseli to do his usual spooky thing(Shadows! Blind eyes! grey pallor! The Sublime!). It is rather startlingly placed next to a subtle and understated Manet that is very, very good even if it is not Manet’s best.

Some dante fun

March 7, 2011

Cripes, it’s been too long! So here’s a little something. This is from canto 26 of Dante’s inferno, where he meets Odysseus(condemned for the fraud of the Trojan Horse):

“I set sail from Circe who had ensnared me
For more than a year there near Gaëta —
Before Aeneas had given it that name —

“Not fondness for my son nor sense of duty
95 To my aged father nor the love I owed
Penelope to bring her happiness

“Could overmaster in me the deep longing
Which I had to gain knowledge of the world
And of the vices and virtues of mankind.

100 “I embarked on the vast and open sea
With but one boat and that same scanty crew
Of my men who had not deserted me.

“On one shore and the other I saw as far
As Spain, far as Morocco, Sardinia,
105 And the other islands the sea bathes about.

“I and my shipmates by then were old and slow
When we came at long last to the close narrows
Where Hercules had set up his stone markers

“That men should not put out beyond that point.
110 On the starboard I now had passed Seville
And on the port I already passed Ceuta.

” ‘Brothers,’ I said, ‘who through a hundred thousand
Dangers have reached the channel to the west,
To the short evening watch which your own senses

115 ” ‘Still must keep, do not choose to deny
The experience of what lies past the sun
And of the world yet uninhabited.

” ‘Consider the seed of your generation:
You were not born to live like animals
120 But to pursue virtue and possess knowledge.’

“I rallied my shipmates for the voyage
So sharply with this brief exhortation
That then I could have hardly held them back.

“And turning our stern toward the morning,
125 Of oars we made wings for that madcap flight,
Always gaining on the larboard side.

“Night by now gazed out on all the stars
At the other pole, and our stars sank so low
That none rose up above the ocean floor.

130 “Five times the light that spread beneath the moon
Again shone down and five times more it waned
Since we had entered that deep passageway

“When a lone mountain loomed ahead, dark
In the dim distance, and it looked to me
135 The highest peak that I had ever seen.

“We leaped for joy — it quickly turned to grief,
For from the new land a whirlwind surging up
Struck the foredeck of our ship head on.

“Three times it spun us round in swirling waters;
140 The fourth round it raised the stern straight up
And plunged the prow down deep, as Another pleased,

“Until the sea once more closed over us.”