A Visit to Boston for Botticelli

This weekend my husband and I took a mini-vacation. We went to Boston, MA to see the Botticelli exhibit currently ongoing at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. It’s a different experience looking at a painting when you paint yourself. A couple of months ago I made my first visit to the Metropolitan in NYC since I became a painter. It was rather mind-blowing. Suddenly the brush strokes seemed alive and engaging visually was a completely new experience. This made me all the more eager to see the Botticelli exhibit as he’s one of my favorite painters. Sadly, I was rather disappointed.

The exhibit is small and the day we visited the museum was sweltering. Apparently, the air conditioning was off or broken (a store clerk told me it must be broken) and it was hot enough that it nearly made me ill. That alone would have been enough to ruin the experience for me – if you care about your patrons (not to mention the art –heat isn’t good for paintings), you don’t subject them to this level of discomfort. It was quite nauseating. More to the point though, the exhibit itself was poorly done. There are a number of paintings by Botticelli’s teacher Lippi, and several from some of his students. That was a positive as it allowed the viewer to see the continuity from generation to generation. However, and there are two significant howevers, the Botticelli paintings chosen were not his best. They tended toward his later period, and with the exception of his Venus, boti benuswere largely uninspired. More importantly, the commentary at the exhibit ignores completely the impact the insane Christian Savanarola had both on Florentine art in general and Botticelli in particular. He’s mentioned in passing, but what isn’t mentioned is that Botticelli burned some of his artwork and afterwards, turned away from classical subjects and his lush style. His work post Savanarola is quite simply dreary and uninspired. It really marked a step back for the painter. I don’t usually come down on the side of setting people on fire, but with Savanarola, I’d be first in line to light the match.

That being said, there were other things in the museum that caught my eye and made the trip more than worthwhile. They had a full room, for instance, dedicated to Dionysos. It had all sorts of figurines, vases, wine cups and items related to Symposium. We spent a great deal of time in that room.

Hyacinthus and Zephyrus

This ^ is perhaps one of my favorite attic vases ever. It shows Hyakinthus in the erotic embrace of Zephyrus, mid flight. 

There was quite a lovely collection of Roman statuary, including this Eros statue.

winged eros

Many of the items were quite quirky, at least I found them so.

Venus with a snap

(Venus with a snap)

They even had a few interesting Madonna with child images.

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This Jesus is fabulous. (I love the expressiveness of Mary’s face here)

baby jesus will fuck you up

This ^ one will mess you up. Lol.

I haven’t processed all the photos that I took, but over the next week, I’ll try to do so and post some more here.

We also hit up two bookstores, Brattle bookshop and Commonwealth books, which I absolutely recommend. Check out our book haul. ^__^.

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There’s a lot to do in Boston and I’ve really enjoyed my last couple of visits. I think next time, I want to come up when it’s a bit cooler and visit all the historical sites. So far, I’ve not had time to do so and it’s a city with such a rich history.

We stayed at the Langham. It’s a lovely hotel. I know some people don’t care about their hotels, figuring that when on vacation one doesn’t spend much time there, but for me, it’s an important part of the travel experience. I stayed here years and years ago with my adopted mom and it was every bit as nice as I remembered. (My only complaint, both times I’ve stayed, is that their in house massage therapists are just awful. I think the worst massage I’ve ever had was on this visit. The hotel I rate four stars, the massage negative four. I can’t help but wonder if there’s a local school turning them out. I get massage per doctor’s orders at least three times a month and have for years. Of my top three worst massages ever, two were at the Langham so stay at the hotel, enjoy it, but for the love of the Gods, skip the spa).

 

(all photos mine unless otherwise noted. Please do not use without my express written permission).

Another Book Recommendation

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Speaking of books, I also found this book mesmerizing. It’s a lyrical, at times confessional read written by the late Denise Inge. I was intensely moved by this woman’s words. I initially picked up the book because I am working on a book on pilgrimage and I wanted to read accounts of people who had made a similar journey to the one I took in July. There was almost nothing, save this book, available. I started reading it because, just as I did, she made a personal pilgrimage to four ossuaries. The first two stops on her journey, were the first two on mine: Czermna and Sedlec. In her case, she was journeying to face the fear of her own mortality summoned forth when she discovered that she lived in a parish house that held an ossuary in its basement (I would be in absolute heaven were I so fortunate as to be gifted with care of an ossuary!).

While she and I may have stepped in the same places, submitted ourselves to experience of the same skulls and bones, our responses were markedly different. She wrestled with terror and I was brought to my knees by sublimity; at the same time her language is thoughtful and introspective and it made me more thoughtful and introspective about my pilgrimage too. I wish I could have had the opportunity to speak with her about her pilgrimage and mine and all the places we might have met in the middle. There is a simplicity in bone after all that reflects back everything we do not wish to allow ourselves to see. There is a profound truth in the stark realities of bone. She talks of the bare beauty of bone and my heart sings.

“The dead are not far from us, they cling in some strange way to what is most still and deep within us.” – W.B. Yeats

Two Book Recommendations

Here are two awesome books about ossuaries and decorated skeletons–the Catacomb Saints so popular during the Counter-Reformation. I cannot recommend these books highly enough. The author has done an invaluable service in bringing these beauties to light once more. He approaches them as works of art — which I agree, they are—but opens the door to tasting and touching again the breath of the sacred, something ineffably profound, that led to their construction in the first place, and with that, a glimpse, perhaps a means toward reclaiming our sense of enchantment in the world.

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Heavenly Bodies by Paul Koudounaris

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The Empire of Death by Paul Koudounaris