By Dan Bischoff/For The Star-Ledger ~ nj.com
The “Madonna del Latte” by Bergognone — part of a new summer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that’s made up of pieces on loan from northern Italy.
Through this summer, the Metropolitan Museum has set up a gallery right in the middle of its European Painting section to show 15 Renaissance pictures brought over from the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, an Italian town near the border with Switzerland.
The Accademia Carrara is to most Americans an obscure art school, but it has a large collection of paintings (dating from the Renaissance through the 18th century) that concentrates on northern Italian art and its tendency to mix German color and detail with Italian sweep and composition.
To English art lovers, it is more than that: The finest collection in Bergamo, the mountain town where Bernard Berenson settled to begin his great project that set the study of the Renaissance on a scholarly footing. Berenson would become the great authenticator of Italian art during the robber baron age, amassing a fortune by ascribing pictures to this or that famous artist for a fee (Americans know him as the great-grandfather of the actress Marisa Berenson). And the first artist he chose for close study was Lorenzo Lotto, who painted the 17-foot altarpiece in the Dominican monastery at Bergamo, and lived and worked there for 10 years.
“Bellini, Titian, and Lotto: North Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo” includes four Lottos, an artist we see relatively little over here, including three small predella for that huge altarpiece. Their high color and rhythmic, detailed storytelling find echoes in much of English Victorian painting. Indeed, those echoes are all around us here — in the esplaniered rose of Sharon behind the Madonna in Bergognone’s “Madonna del Latte” (1485), for example, which looks lifted from a pre-Raphaelite picture (when in fact the influence probably flowed the other way). Not to mention the almost photographic, downright Holbein-looking portraiture of the Veneto, like Giovanni Cariani’s “Portrait of Giovanni Benedetto Caravaggi” (1527).
You might come for the Lottos, or perhaps for the small and very youthful Titian, “Orpheus and Eurydice,” done when the artist was in his early 20s as a kind of binary metaphor — one side of the canvas a pleasant north Italian hill town, the other a volcanic hell — representing the lovers together and apart. But you’ll linger over the portraits, and particularly the two by Giovanni Battista Moroni.
Moroni is considered one of the finest portraitists of the 16th century, and he worked around Bergamo painting the occasional soldier or local grandee, but especially middle-level professionals, like a doctor or lawyer or artist, that was coming into his own in the 1570s. Moroni had a silvery naturalism that is both nearly photographic and psychologically acute; Titian knew him, and recommended his work to Venetian nobility. His “Portrait of a 29-year-old Man” (1567) is the cover art for the Met’s catalogue, but his “Portrait of a Little Girl of the Redetti Family” (1570) is a show-stopper.
She’s an extraordinary concoction of stiff lace and gold brocade, with jewels in her hair and one hand fiddling with a great rope of pearls around her neck, but we notice these things last, if at all — it’s her luminous grey-green eyes that fix you. Painting children is much more difficult than people think, and not just because they don’t sit still. The facial planes are less distinct, and their modeling must account for the near-translucency of young flesh; everything depends on the exact placement of a very few details, the shape of the eyes, nose, lips, and their relationship to the whole. “Little Girl” is marvelous at this, more magical in its simplicity than even Lotto’s “Portrait of Lucina Bambati” (1518-23), with its Romantic, occluded moon bearing the subject’s initials in gold.
There is a fine religious painting by Giovanni Bellini here, too, “Pieta with the Virgin and St. John” (1455-60), from a century or so earlier, a devotional work that moves its figures right up to the picture plane where their mask-like grief is unmistakable, even unavoidable. It’s a great picture, particularly for the way Christ’s pierced dead hands make a knot with the Virgin’s at the very front.
But it isn’t the same thing as meeting a little girl who seems curious and maybe just a tad worried about how you see her. You’ll never guess how close the northern Italian Renaissance is to today unless you see it.
Bellini, Titian, and Lotto: North Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo Where: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave., New York When: Through Sept. 3. Open 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays, 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sundays How much: Suggested admission for adults, $25; $17 for seniors; $12 for students; children younger than 12 admitted free. For more information, call (212) 535-7710 or visit metmuseum.org.
From: ~ by Dan Bischoff
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