At the Met Museum

From what I can discern, it appears the last time I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art was in June 2019. What drew me back, booster in hand and case numbers down, was Susan Tallman’s review in the New York Review of Books, and in particular her observation that “[o]ne century’s wavering is another’s experimentalism.” [cite]

I had no idea whatsoever what she meant by this and, as the artists to which she referred weren’t known to me, the context didn’t help, either:

“Both painters were native Florentines, but Salviati had traveled, learning robustness from the Romans and painterly nuance from the Venetians. Bronzino’s style was decisively, even eccentrically, Florentine—all that Mannerist stylishness and polish—and so immutable that scholars find it difficult to date his mature work. Vasari declared Salviati’s designs “superior to any other master in Florence,” and there is something admirable about his range and adaptability. (One century’s wavering is another’s experimentalism.) But Salviati’s gentle eclecticism serves in the exhibition as a foil to point out Bronzino’s adamantine brilliance.” [cite]

I walked across the northern end of Central Park to see for myself. This endeavor wasn’t entirely successful as the exhibit, which is soon to close, was too crowded for my comfort. This meant I couldn’t linger and had to go with what caught my eye at first glance.

The painting at the head of the post, “Portrait of a Man,” or “Portrait of a Florentine Nobleman,” was the one that struck me most of all I saw. Unfortunately, for my future as a critic of art, it is one by Salviati, not Bronzino. But before you judge my artistic acumen too harshly, just look at this face:

One review commented on the painting this way:

“Another mannerist prank is Salviati’s “Portrait of a Man.” In one hand his elongated fingers hold up a pair of gloves, while the other hand rests on his hip with palms facing out. Awkward to say the least. He is wearing a pinkie ring. A confusing allegorical scene plays out in the background. The young man is framed by a knotted green fabric, Bronzino’s favorite color. Surely this is Salviati poking fun of his rival’s frequent use of green, as seen in several other Bronzino works in the gallery. A true insider joke.” [cite]

And here’s an excerpt from a review in the New York Times:

“In the final spectacular gallery, it’s just Bronzino and Salviati, duking it out, as it were. The Medici as subjects have disappeared, although both artists worked for a time in the Palazzo Vecchio, the historic structure that Cosimo had taken for his private residence. Ultimately Bronzino’s bracing steadiness of style would prevail, as instantly legible as a brand . . . .

“Facing this, Salviati’s paintings can’t help but look motley, at least initially. If Bronzino’s volleys land in the same place again and again, Salviati seems to try a different return each time. . . .

“to modern eyes, Salviati’s “Portrait of a Man” almost seems to be a Mannerist prank, with its appealing subject— his arms akimbo, gloves in hand, pinkie ring on display — and a confusing scene with an allegorical river god and a friendly Florentine lion. Verging on vamping is the swath of knotted green fabric behind him. The label says it signifies the bonds of love but here it can read as a flamboyant dig at his rival Bronzino’s more routine affection for green, evident in several other works in the gallery.”

I merely report. It’s up to you to decide. To assist, here’s a link to selected images from the exhibit.

Listening List

Prokofiev Violin Sonata No. 2

2 thoughts on “At the Met Museum

  1. Curt Barnes

    More pondering of that quote “[o]ne century’s wavering is another’s experimentalism,” reminded me of examples closer to Mannerism chronologically. After a frontal representation of the table and disciples for the Last Supper was pretty much set in stone (via Ghirlandaio, del Castagno, and even the innovator Leonardo, who followed tradition on this), the Venetian Tintoretto gave us an angled view, with angels swooping overhead and strategic lighting dramatizing everything. He was vilified for breaching that tradition, but in retrospect it was consistent with Baroque sensibilities. Veronese got in trouble with the Church for his grandiose Last Supper—with a dwarf, a monkey, parrot, and drunken German (!) soldiers adding to the color—until the painting was renamed “Feast in the House of Levi” to satisfy complaints. But the “experimentalism” continued.
    Thanks for the provocative post!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Oh, wow, do I ever feel well rewarded for putting up this post by your wonderful lesson in art history. Go, Tintoretto and Veronese! And speaking of art history, what struck me about the reviews I note here was how similar their takes were, even, in some instances, down to use of language and details highlighted. It made me think the reviewers were acting on received wisdom, rather than making their own judgments. What you write, in contrast, is thought-provoking, raising for me, as one example, whether Salviati’s departures from the Mannerist norm were ever breakthroughs (like Tintoretto and the angled table), or simply efforts at something different that didn’t quite rise to that level. Just as an aside, I think I was drawn to this particular work because it reminded me of Modigliani. It doesn’t appear Modigliani found Salviati an influence. I wonder whether anyone did?

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