At the Metropolitan

May 1, 2010

Some images from my most recent visit, all taken in ambient light, so pardon the fuzziness.  Flashes are not allowed.  Some images are linked to others if you click them.

L) My kind of interior – dizzying, isn’t it?    R) Lombard tryptich – click for more info.

Back view of a Chinese  stele with multiple images of the Buddha.

Samurai daggers and sword, objects of incredible beauty and precision.  Click to enlarge.

From an altarpiece by Lorenzo Monaco, one of my favorite artists.  Note Abraham with the flaming sword, and Isaac, in the upper right.  Click for more info.

Those northern mannerists!  They’re weird, but I love them.    Oil on copper plate, for a piece of furniture.  Click for more info.

A favorite of mine, Antoine Lavoisier and his wife, Prima della rivoluzione by that propagandist for 1789, Jacques Louis David.  Carlyle had fun with him and his revolutionary fervor.  Antoine was not so lucky.  He, a liberal, was guillotined by the radicals – dare I call them terroristes? – just leave it at Jacobins.   His wife survived.  Madison Smartt Bell has written a nice capsule biography of him, his monumental contribution to the creation of modern chemistry, and his destruction in those chaotic times, Lavoisier in the Year One.

The imminence of the divine, by an artist in Verrochio’s worshop [full image], a teacher of Leonardo.  From here to 2001 is not such a stretch – click to see why.  And to the right, the floor, mundane, just for balance…


December 13, 2009

Forget this ah…wilderness, back to nature stuff!  Get with the real, the civilizing program. Why does everyone I know recoil in horror when I show them pictures of rococo interiors or drag them into the Met period rooms?  How far we have come from our roots.  The book, The Age of Comfort by Joan DeJean recalls them to us, with style.

The 18th century English may have had the edge in satire, hands down (French caricatures of the time seem to me to be crude in comparison with what the Brits were able to produce; see Gatrell’s book and these posts) but the French had it in the style realm.  Ms. DeJean’s book narrates how our homes came to be what they are, why French style has been synonymous with style for so long, and reveals the origin of toilets (no, the English did not invent them), blinds and curtain treatments, sofas, armchairs, night tables,  bidets and boudoirs, living rooms, reading rooms, and the whole notion that one’s architectural surroundings should encourage a way of life, or reflect one’s consciously held values of the good life.

She describes the rise of cotton as the darling of the fashion industry, indeed, the rise of a fashion industry is itself a part of her subject.  Looking at 18th century images of people today we may feel they are over dressed and formal, but compared to their fathers and mothers, they were practically naked.  Such freedom – as Rousseau said, man born free, is everywhere in chains… Is the first step towards liberty to dress well?  No wonder Oscar Wilde was so fond of French culture.

Today, such philosophical notions are part of the standard training of architects and architectural historians, but their origin is usually traced to the Bauhaus, the Functionalist idea,  William Morris and the Arts and Craft Movement.  Who would have joined Morris in a spiritual marriage with Francois Boucher, but they are brothers under the skin after all.  Decoration was an almost ethical pursuit for the Age of Comfort:  it emodied ideals of life, leisure, sex, romance, and the development of the intellectual and moral self.   So much for rococo frivolity!  What could be more serious than pleasure!

Matter of Taste

March 12, 2008

wieskirche_rococo_interior.jpg Vierzehnheiligen B. Neuman Amalienburg French Rococo in Munich

Rococo, la rocaille– is it an acquired taste? Most people who find out that I love this stuff, and all the decorative arts from this period, recoil in disgust. Have we lost our taste for ornament, one of the most elemental aesthetic delights? Are we all children of the machine age, the Bauhaus, Richard Meier?


People seem to feel that rococo is somehow unclean, revolting, immoral in its exuberance. Such puritanism!

These examples are all Bavarian, one region that saw the light and imported the style from France with a gusto. The Wies Church is sober and clean on the exterior, sitting isolated in a rural landscape, but inside – an explosion! The space in Vierzehnheiligen practically writhes and pulsates with life, with faith, sensuality…ecstasy! The pavillion in the Nymphenburg palace known as the Amalienburg is an exquisite candybox jewel of a French interior.

I like Meier, Wiener Workstatte, Stickley, Sullivan – all that modern, craft, honesty-sincerity-functionality stuff, but can’t we have a little fun? Of course, the feminization of interior space is wonderful too…

I can’t resist posting this bit of over-the-top (tongue in cheek?) ranting by one of the great anti-ornamentists of the modern period, Adolf Loos (Ornament and Crime):

The Papuan tattoos his skin, his boat, his oars, in short, everthing within his reach. He is no criminal. The modern man who tattoos himself is a criminal or a degenerate. There are prisons in which eighty percent of the prisoners are tattooed. The tattooed men who are not in prison are latent criminals or degenerate aristocrats. If a tattooed man dies in freedom, then he has died just a few years before committing a murder. Man’s urge to ornament his face and everthing within his reach is the prime origin of the fine arts. It is the babblings of painting. All art is erotic.

Since the ornament is no longer organically connected with our culture, it is therfore no longer the expression of our culture…I have come to realize the following, which I have bestowed upon the world: evolution of cuture is equivalent to removing the ornament form the product…” The ornament created today had no connection with us, has no human connections at all, no connection with the world order. It is incapapble of development…The modern ornamenter, however, is a straggler or a pathological phenomenon. He himself rejects his own products after a scant three years. People of culture find them intolerable right away…

The ornamenter knows this well, and the Austrian ornamenters are attempting to take advantage of this situaltion. They say: “A consumer who finds his furnishings intolerable after ten years, and is thus forced to refurnish every ten years, is preferable to us than one who buys a new article when the old one is worn out. Industry demands this. Millions of people find employment as a result of this rapid change.”

~~~~~~~~ P.S. ~~~~~~~~~~~

Here is the Tony Millionare comic I mention in a comment below:

P.P.S.  A new note on matters of taste, here.