BOZAR

The Rubens exhibition is being held at the Palais des Beaux Arts, otherwise known as BOZAR, a grand projet designed by Victor Horta just after the first world war as part of the Mont des Arts for music, theatre, art, film and exhibitions, a wonderful multi-disciplinary mélange as if the Royal Academy had mated with the Barbican and South Bank.   What was clear from the discussion over lunch was that it has an obviously European dimension, viewing itself as a collaborative international cultural project.

These are details of Horta’s building:

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Rubens and His Legacy

I missed the opening of the exhibition Rubens and His Legacy in Brussels last night, but took the opportunity of a quick day trip to see the exhibition which opens at the RA on January 24th. next year.   The idea of the exhibition is to explore Rubens not just as an an artist, but his influence on other artists:  Rubenism more than Rubens.   The organisation is thematic, beginning with Violence:  scenes of rape and rapine, including a big picture of Bulls Fighting by James Ward RA, a picture of Chevy Chase by Landseer, two Lion Hunts by Delacroix, right up to Lovis Corinth painting Hell.   The references in the gallery texts are to filmmakers, as if Rubens was ‘the Quentin Tarantino of his day’, as interested in subject matter and propaganda as were Sergei Eisenstein and Leni Riefenstahl.   Having done an exhibition at the National Gallery on Rubens in 2005, I’m glad that this is Rubens Plus, a way of connecting Rubens to modern audiences thematically.

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Palazzo Corsini

We were having a small espresso in the Florentine branch of Florians after lunch when we were asked if by any chance we would like to see the attics of the Palazzo Corsini.   Of course.   The palazzo is normally only open by special appointment and the attics not at all.   We entered by the set of late seventeenth-century courtyards:

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Inside were incredibly grand frescoed interiors stretching out towards the Arno:

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Pontormo

I joined a small group of art historians to see the great Pontormo e Rosso Fiorentino exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi, taken round by Carlo Falciani, one of the curators.   The idea of the exhibition is to explore the differences between the two artists:  both pupils of Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo remained in Florence, doing work for the Medici (he did the decoration for their villa in Poggio a Caiano), whereas Rosso travelled widely in Italy, to Naples, Volterra and Sansepolcro, dying in Fontainebleau in 1540.   Pontormo’s style is already evident in his Joseph Sold to Potiphar in the National Gallery, painted when he was only 21:  the etiolated figures, the movement in the composition, influenced, according to the argument of the exhibition, not by maniera, but by his knowledge of German engravings.   There’s a room full of Pontormo’s portraits, including a Portrait of Two Friends from the Cini Foundation in which one of them is pointing to a passage in Cicero’s De Amicitia.   Then a room of nearly all the portraits known to have been painted by Rosso.   The greatest pictures in the exhibition are Rosso’s Ginori Altarpiece from the basilica of San Lorenzo, newly cleaned for the exhibition, full of fiery colours and an equally fiery sense of pictorial invention, in which all the figures are crushed together;  and Pontormo’s Visitation, borrowed from Carmignano.   Afterwards, we went on a pilgrimage, which I do whenever in Florence, across the Ponte Vecchio to S. Felicita, to see Pontormo’s Deposition in a side chapel.   Nothing equals it.

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James Bradburne

One of my greatest pleasures in recent years has been chairing the Advisory Board of the Palazzo Strozzi.   I was asked to do so by James Bradburne, a highly intelligent and entrepreneurial Canadian, who was trained as an architect and ran the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt.   Known for his floral waistcoats, he ran the newly established independent institution with great chutzpah, organising a whole series of memorable exhibitions, including a wonderful exhibition on Bronzino in 2010, a recent exhibition on Renaissance sculpture which travelled to the Louvre and a current exhibition on Pontormo.   Now, according to the Art Newspaper, he faces the chop.   What has he done wrong ?  Was he too independent minded ?   Or insufficiently ingratiating with his board ?  If asked by Saxton Bampfylde, the headhunters who have been employed to find a successor, who should be the next Director, I will recommend Bradburne.

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Rafael Moneo

Rafael Moneo came from Madrid last night to give this year’s Annual Architecture Lecture at the RA.   He eschewed the usual format of talking about his own work and instead talked about the traditional involvement of the architect in history and theory, going back to the Vitruvian belief in commodity, firmness and delight and the writings of Albert, Serlio and Vignola.   There was much discussion afterwards as to how far it was a critique of Rem Koolhaas’s idea as expressed in his Venice Bienniale that architecture can be reduced to a kit of parts which can be assembled arbitrarily, without a sense of rootedness in building.   I certainly took it as a statement of belief in the role of analysis, the understanding of history and of the craft of building in intelligent architectural composition, as one might expect from the architect of buildings like the Museum of Roman Art in Mérida, the Kursaal in San Sebastián, and the recent extensions to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Prado in Madrid.

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Veronese

We finally made it to the Veronese exhibition yesterday on the penultimate day before it closes:  a wonderful and nicely judged collection of paintings, demonstrating Veronese’s brilliant ability to create massed compositions, rich in visual incident, for the Venetian aristocracy in their villas and estates.   Full of small children, horses, dogs, spectators on distant balconies and beautifully painted fabric (but badly painted hands), many of the paintings are owned by the National Gallery itself, thanks to Charles Eastlake’s autumn shopping trips to northern Italy, armed with government money, when he was able to extract pictures from the impoverished Italian nobility.   Whilst many artists benefit from seeing their work en masse, I wasn’t convinced that this was true for Veronese.   Seeing them all together makes one realise the extent to which he replicates the same compositional formulae, using a wardrobe of cloaks and robes which reappear in different pictures.

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