Friday, January 2, 2009

Art and Love in Renaissance Italy at the MET

Paolo di Stefano Badaloni, Inner Lid from a Cassone with Venus Reclining on Pillows, ca. 1440-1445.

The New York Metropolitan Museum’s exhibit Art and Love in Renaissance Italy would probably be a hit in almost any other museum in North America, a big show with interesting, intellectually challenging pieces. Many of the objects are drawn from the every day life of Renaissance Italy’s wealthy elite and represent courtship, marriage, pornography and eroticism, and even the birth of children. However, as far as “big” pieces in the exhibit go, only a few are drawn from the familiar art media of painting and sculpture. In fact, most works are pedestrian, lacking grandeur. However, what constitutes pedestrian “art” for the renaissance elite is still extraordinary by most critical standards.

The exhibit works best as a historical, anthropological study, a true art historical journey into an idea and its historical importance. The diary entries, belle donne jugs, maiolica ware, birth trays, and guilt girdles are not masterpieces. But they are artworks. More importantly, they reveal the complex ideas that pervade attitudes towards love, marriage, and sexuality at the time. The re-attunement to the Classical past is evident, but so is competitiveness among leading families to out-do one another. The ubiquity of art and the humanist themes in the lives of Renaissance people is well demonstrated by this exhibit.

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