Late last month, I visited the National Gallery of Art (NGA) close to the Capitol Hill’s foot with three of my friends. When we got into the West Building, one of the NGA’s edifices, I got the sense of being in the medieval Roman Pantheon. The edifice’s floor plan is planned around a grand rotunda coming off as the pantheon. The fountains and greenery just outside the rotunda provided us with a calming haven. As I walked within the edifice and the exhibition spaces within it, I felt illuminated by the natural light streaming into the spaces. The light appeared to unite the spaces on purpose. The most captivating NGA galleries are undoubtedly the ones hosting Italian Renaissance (IR) artworks. We spend most of time we were within the NGA at the galleries. We were lucky to have two NGA staff to guide us through the galleries. Particularly, the IR “Madonna and Child Enthroned” by Gentile Fabriano painting and the “Saint John in the Desert” painting by Domenico Veneziano were striking (Cinotti, 1975; Joost-Gaugier, 2012).
The painting by Fabriano has a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and broad-based flavor. It is done in brilliant colors. It comes off as a combination of ornamental patterns and textural richness. In the painting, Jesus’ mother, Mary, is sitting on a delightfully covered bench. The material covering the bench has one of ends lying on a floor that is ornately tiled. The principal figures in the artwork are ornately attired. They are in the company of four angels who are hardly visible. The angels appear incised into a background of gold leaves. Jesus appears to be insisting on Mary’s divine role by gesturing towards “Mater”, a Latin term on her mantle’s collar. In one of Jesus’ hands there is a string tethering a butterfly. Notably, in classic Christendom, the butterfly symbolizes Jesus’ resurrection (Cinotti, 1975). Like the Veneziano’s painting, the painting by Fabriano is defined by a polished decorative stylishness associated with the IR. When I visited the NGA, the two paintings struck me as fusing the Middle Age’s stylized art with the IR’s naturalistic interests.
Such interests were rather pronounced in the Veneziano’s painting, done in the first half of the 15th century (Cinotti, 1975). Notably, “Saint John in the Desert” is one of the Veneziano’s most highly praised works. It comes off as having originally been an element of a grand altar in the IR era. It captures various events in the life of John the Baptist. The painting took me by surprise since, from reading the Bible, I perceived the biblical John as having been am aged, saintly man with a pronounced beard and unrefined donning animal skins. However, in the Veneziano’s painting, John is a youthful, worldly man wearing well-cut clothes. In the painting, John’s figure is graceful.
We decided to visit the NGA at the insistence of one of the friends, who is always quick to declare his fondness for the artworks collected by Andrew Mellon. Most of the artworks are housed by the NGA presently. He asserts to those who care to pay attention to his takes on America’s status as a nation defined by artwork that Mellon longed for a USA with an art museum of the same standing as the art museums of other grand nations. According to me, the most captivating NGA galleries are indubitably the ones hosting IR artworks. I found the paintings by Fabriano and Veneziano to be rather arresting. The paintings have the typical stylish, cosmopolitan, and international IR flavor.
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