The Yale Art Gallery Museum Experience
My wife and I visited the Yale Art Gallery this week. After some effort to acquire change for the parking meter, we entered the museum. A docent who handed us a list of the exhibits that were on each floor greeted us. It was quiet except for the hushed voice of a professor leading a class through the Italian Paintings from the Richard L. Feigen Collection. We were suddenly glad that we did not bring our children. It was dark and not very inviting but we were still excited to get started. We headed in the direction of the hushed voice eager to see what the museum offered.
The Yale Art Gallery’s long history can be told through the buildings the gallery has occupied. John Trumbull designed the Picture Gallery at Yale, which opened to the public on October 25, 1832. Yale’s collection quickly outgrew the Trumbull Gallery and in 1867 moved to Street Hall. “The Trumbull Gallery then served as office for the University president and treasurer until it was demolished in 1901.” http://artgallery.yale.edu/pages/collection/buildings/build_trumbull.php The fall of 1926 saw the construction of a new building that would unite the University’s art collections which were being housed in several locations around campus. The new building also provided additional space for the expanding collection. It was known as The Gallery of Fine Arts and was designed by well-known architect Egerton Swartwout, B.A. 1891. It opened its doors to the public on September 27, 1928. The design style was Gothic that was favored throughout the university. Louis I. Kahn designed the current Yale Art Gallery building. “It was his first significant commission and is widely considered his first masterpiece.” http://artgallery.yale.edu/pages/collection/buildings/build_kahn.php. The building was a departure from the neo-Gothic buildings that made up much of the university’s buildings. Each of the structures, except for the original Trumbull Gallery, still stands on Chapel Street. A full restoration of the museum began in 2003 and is currently in progress.
Our general impression of the museum’s collection is that the museum has a lot of interesting exhibits. We did not recognize most of the artist’s names. My wife was particularly disturbed by the paintings in the Italian Paintings from the Richard L. Feigen Collection. Most of the paintings were religious in nature and we were unfamiliar with the stories associated with the paintings. One painting by Annibale Carracci called Virgin and Child With St. Lucy and the Young St. John the Baptist caught our attention as the subjects were all looking at a plate containing two human eyeballs on it. We were confused until another patron explained that the eyeballs were a reference to the legend in which Diocletian put out St. Lucy’s eyes. My wife was extremely upset by another painting in the collection by Giovanni di Paolo called Christ as the Man of Sorrows. It depicted Christ as naked and extremely emaciated in the crucifiction pose. I could not photograph the actual painting because it does not belong to the museum but have included a picture I took from the book of the collection in the lobby. We thoroughly enjoyed the African Art section and included some pictures of a mask and headdress that caught our attention. The special exhibit of Jane Davis Doggett’s Talking Graphics was intriguing. My wife loved the art but I thought it was a bit simple. It didn’t really strike me as being “great art”. Finally, the modern arts section was full of surprises. The addict on the floor that appeared lifelike at first glance, televisions playing videos and Andy Warhol’s pop art all challenged our viewpoint as to what could be considered “art”.
My wife and I were particularly intrigued by a large oil on canvas painting called The Rest on the Flight into Egypt known as the Madonna della Pappa by Francesco Vanni Siena (ca. 1595). The painting featured the Virgin feeding the Christ Child cereal with a silver spoon while an angel holds a porcelain bowl and St. Joseph hold cherries from trees that appear to be bowing down to offer their fruit to the infant. The photograph included does not do the painting justice. There was a light over the painting which was hung high on the wall that interfered with the camera’s ability to capture the image. The surprising element of the painting is the calmness it exudes despite the fact that it is capturing a moment during the flight of the subject’s who were trying to save the infant. The life like faces of the Virgin, the Child and the angel are all beautifully illuminated which is a trait of a manneristic painting. St. Joseph is a presence in the painting but is not a focal point as he is almost washed out of the painting. The appeal of the painting is not only the pleasing aesthetics but also the emotional connection we made with it. The subjects would be emotionally distrught and yet, here is this beautifully illustrated almost tranqil scene.
“Francesco Vanni (1563 – 1610) was an Italian painter of the Mannerist style, active in Rome and his native city ofSiena”.
The Mannerist style was an art style that was characterized by the human form in exaggerated poses in uncharacteristic settings. Francesco apprenticed with Giovanni de’ Vecchi from 1579 – 1580 but was also influenced by Federico Barocci. Francesco was also considered one of the last painters whose work mirrored the Sienese school of painting. He was named a Cavalieri, which I understand to mean that he became part of a very selective papal order under the direction of the papal legate, cardinal Bonifazio Bevilacqua (1571 – 1627).
Francesco came from a family of artists, as both his half brother and stepfather were painters as well. After his stepfather died, sixteen year old Francesco went first to Bologna and eventually to Rome. He was commissioned by Pope Clement VIII to paint an altarpiece St. Peters. He created many other paintings for Roman churches as well including Assumption for S. Lorenzo in Miranda. He eventually returned to Siena where he continued to paint for various churches. He spent some time teaching as well including the famous Italian painter Rutilio di Lorenzo (c. 1571 – 1639) known for his contributions to the Casino Mediceo.
Our visit to the Yale Art Gallery was an enjoyable and eye opening experience. It definitely changed our views on what can be considered art and gave us a new appreciation for the emotional connection that can be made with a piece of art. We are looking forward to our next art gallery adventure.