Holland Carter's review in the NY Times recently of the new show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington really made my blood boil. The show is "Bellini, Giorgione, Titian and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting," and Carter writes that the show is "very beautiful," a "feast" --
"Renowned paintings from across Europe fill the galleries: a classic Bellini Virgin and Child from Milan; Giorgione's "Three Philosophers" from Vienna; Titian's "Concert Champêtre," visiting the United States from the Louvre for the first time."
But it's a feast with what seems, at first, a too-familiar menu. We know these artists, or think we do. Certain pictures are beyond famous. So what, pleasure aside, is the point? To transport such treasures across the world is an expensive proposition; never mind the cost in physical wear on the objects themselves. Surely such an effort should be grounded in scholarly purpose."
Surely! I mean, just showing people some of the beautiful paintings ever made -- what would be the point of that?
There was an essay recently in the American Scholar (can't remember by whom . . .) about how the scholars in our humanities departments have made it impossible to talk intelligently any more about beauty and the beautiful -- it's rather pathetic, and even shameful. Maybe it's just because I recently returned from 4 months in Italy, where I spent probably a quarter of my time wandering around churches and museums awe-struck by the beauty of what the Italians created in that remarkable burst of creativity between the 14th and 17th centuries. The National Gallery show doesn't need a scholarly purpose -- you should go to feast your eyes on magnificence of a kind that one rarely gets to see.