Monday, July 18, 2005


The Met's Mona Lisa?

This is the picture for which the Met recently paid $50 million. I think that indicates that museums are now full, casting about with increasing desperation for the last little scraps of history, fighting over them with an ever-increasing intensity. The curators might have mistaken significance for importance, and rarity for value.

I know the story. I know that Duccio (the artist) is an obscure master whose star is on the rise, or at least in the process of belated rescusitation. I know that there are very few Duccios to begin with, and that this is, or was, the last one in private hands and thus potentially available for purchase.

But really, it's not a great picture. The face of the madonna might as well have been carved of wood as painted. She doesn't hold the child; rather, her hands are arrayed below it, relaxed and enigmatic of intent. The child is a miniature adult, a Lilliputian perhaps, or an encephalitic, but not a naturalistic human infant. Even its robes are merely miniaturized, falling with the weight of larger pieces of cloth. Its colors clash.

Madonnas have their charm, but few, perhaps, are great works of art. And oughtn't those few to be ones that transcend the genre and its conventions? Shouldn't they be extraordinary, rather than typical? This one strikes me as merely great art-historical esoterica, not great art.

I might make a special effort to see it, but only if I were already at the Museum.

The Quotidian Meander

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