You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.
2 October 2021
We're here for a reconnaissance of the Art Institute of Chicago, reputed to be the 35th most visited art establishment in the world, and we're trembling with excitement.
The Art Institute was founded in 1879, but the present building here near the lake front was opened in 1893, and additional facilities have been added on from time to time, most recently in 2009 with the Modern Wing. Some 1.8 million people show up to view the goods in non-covid years, and 'the goods' include some 300,000 art things of various kinds.
That's impressives, all the symmetries, etc. Only a nationwide investment bank could afford a building like this one nowadays.
Over there, by the Impressionism wing -- let's go see.
Fantastic. It's an authentic member of Rodin's 'Burghers of Calais' -- or nearly so. It's not precisely one of the authentic 12 bronze castings of the set of six Burghers, to be honest, it's a plaster replica, painted to look like bronze, which was exhibited at Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. It's still very nice.
That was the Impressionism wing and perhaps we'll have time get back there today (or next time). The Art Institute is said to have the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-impressionist art in the world, except for the Louvre. But for some of us, tastes run more toward the medieval and Renaissance-era sort of thing, like, for example, this 'Ecce Home' engraving by the German Martin Schongauer of Colmar, ca. 1480, showing a beat-up Jesus being presented to the jeering crowd of deplorables. Schongauer was the first of the important northern engravers of prints, with his works passed hand to hand all over western Europe, and a young Dürer journeyed to Colmar to learn from him, arriving in 1492 not long after Schongauer had died at age 39 or 40.
In fact, Dürer's own verson of the 'Ecce Homo' theme (1498) clearly owes a lot to Schongauer's version just above.
This nice St Catherine, with the wheel and sword of her torture and martyrdom, is attributed to Jean Bellegambe of Douai, ca. 1520, and was one of the side wings of a tryptich altarpiece, of which the other side piece, of St Barbara, is also here, but our photo didn't make the cut, and the centre panel is now in Brussels.
This peaceful 'Annunciation' avoids a few of the awkward questions raised by some other Annunciations and is by Jean Hey, the 'Master of Moulins', dated to 1490/95.
Speaking of Jean Hey ('the Master of Moulins'), these two interesting faces are fragments of a 'Christ Carrying the Cross' now lost; they're dated to 1500/05. That's St John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary.
This super-crowded 'Adoration of the Christ Child' (ca. 1515) is by Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, the first of the run of major painters in Amsterdan, and depends for any sense at all on the late medieval folk tradition that the Christ child's manger in a stable was built into the ruins of old King David's palace in Bethlehem.
We have a collection of photos of funny baby Jesus pictures, and this undistinguished one on the left might qualify, but . . .
. . . this one, by the workshop of Rogier van der Weyden (ca. 1465), certainly qualifies. We also have a collection of Nursing Madonnas, focusing mainly on those that are anatomically wildly inaccurate. This one probably won't join that webpage.
By Colyn de Coter, a Netherlander, a 'Virgin and Child with Angels' (ca. 1490/95), with a baby Jesus who looks more like a miniature merchant or pawnbroker
We're not finished with funny Baby Jesuses yet -- this Baby Jesus (ca. 1495), hilarious in a zoomed version, comes from an altar in the Carthusian monastery of Thuison in Picardy, northern France.
And then there's this one, by an Italian this time, Vincenzo Frediani of Lucca, ca. 1475/85.
A change of mood -- Carlo Crivelli, ca. 1487
Back to the Baby Jesus -- ca. 1490/96, attributed to Ercole de' Roberti, who after 1486 was the court painter for the Estes in Ferrara but died youngish in 1496; he was thus also known as Ercole Ferrarese. Ercole ('Hercules' in English) Este was the Duke of Ferrara during his time there.
No one mistakes a Botticelli; this one is roughly dated to 1475/85.
This 'Temptation of St Jerome' is by Vasari, art historian and painter for the Medici Dukes of Florence, and dated to 1541/48. The temptress Venus has turned away but one of her cute little cupids is firing a last love-arrow at the old hermit.
Baby Jesuses prior to the 1480s or so tended to be hilariously ugly, whereas after that time the babies began to look more human -- like this cute little fellow, by Bronzino (or one of his followers), dated to after 1527. The John the Baptist looks a little doofus, though.
A lion trying to eat a horse, said to be by Antonio Susini from a model by Giambologna, the late 16th century Flemish sculptor (née Jean de Boulogne) who embellished the court of the Dukes of Florence for half a century. This was modeled late in the century and cast in 1620. The Susinis uncle and nephew made similar variations of the same motif, drawn from Giambologna's models inspired by a Hellenistic marble original. They're usually entitled 'Lion Attacking a Stallion'.
Smart bets are on the lion.
This 'Christ carrying the Cross' (1515/17) isn't seen to best advantage in this no-flash photo, but as Sebastiano del Piombo is a personal favorite it's included here anyway. Sebastiano was a follower of Michaelangelo and a favorite of the Medici Pope Clement VII some years after this work was done. The guy recruited to help Christ with the cross is called Simon of Cyrene in the Gospels.
Another Botticelli, ca. 1485/95, not quite so impressive as some of his pictures but definitely one of his anyway.
This picture is worthy enough in execution but especially interesting for its subject -- it's meant to be Saint Luke drawing a portrait of the Virgin and Child (ca. 1535), with Joseph the dad peeking in from the doorway. Girolamo da Carpi's family name was Sellari; Carpi is a town that was part of the Duchy of Modena, at that time a possession of the Este dynasty of Ferrara, by whom the artist was employed.
The Art Institute's label mentions that Jesus appears to be agitated, as if responding to symbols of death in the picture as omens of his fate.
An intriguing terracotta Virgin and Child, dated to 1475-1500, and ascribed simply to 'Central Italy'
This is an early work by Correggio, dated to ca. 1515, and according to the Institute's label it shows the influences of Leonardo da Vinci, not least in the Virgin's 'half-smile', and Raphael as well. Baby Jesus appears to be blessing young John the Baptist, who has no idea what he's on about.
This lively picture by a Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo of Venice, dated 1530/35, purports to represent the assassination of St Peter Martyr. Peter was a right piece of work, a Dominican friar and noted preacher who represented the Inquisition in Lombardy, famous as a vigorous heretic-hunter; in 1252 the Cathar heretics in Milan got fed up and hired two assassins to do for blessed chap on the road between Como and Milan. His canonization within a year is apparently still the fastest saint-creation in holy history.
We're told that Savoldo's picture contrasts the expressions of the brutal killer and the 'serenely resigned saint'. Actually, this picture isn't half as funny as most of the saint, which show him wearing a big meat cleaver in his head. Like this.
We also collect pictures of Mary Magdalene, chiefly to take votes on the old dichotomy, 'saint or sinner', and this one, by Moretto of Brescia and dated 1540/50, doesn't resolve the issue. She's got the ointment jar that she used on Christ, and the long hair that's associated with prostitutes (though with the pentitent prostitute Mary, the long hair is frequently all she's got on), but there's no skull, and she doesn't appear to be all that penitent.
This is Danaë, by Titian and his workshop, post-1554. Not hugely interesting, we'd have thought.
This Virgin with Jesus and John, on the other hand, commands attention, and not only to the Baby Jesus's weird face. Why is tiny John carrying a big cross so early in the holy story, or is that a spear? By Jacopo Bassano (1560/65) scarcely ever left his house in Bassano del Grappa (a town we visited a few years ago) in the Veneto, but his work shows the strong influence of contemporary Venetian painters like Titian and Veronese. (Jacopo's father and sons were part of the family business; the family name was actually Dal Ponte.)
This is Tintoretto's Tarquin and Lucrezia, 1578/80.
This is El Greco's version of 'St Francis Praying' (1595/1600), or rather one of them; every house in Toledo must have had at least one of the others. He made a large number of these.
Here is a poignant if overdone 'Melancholia' by Domenico Fetti (ca. 1615), which has got all of the required symbolic elements and a suitably sad lady. Fetti worked for the Duke of Mantua until social issues made him flee to Venice, where he remained but died in his early thirties. A nearly identical version of this work is in the Accademia in Venice.
El Greco was not only a mere painter, who knew? This is identified as one of his few sculptures, in painted wood, dated to about 1600.
The Art Institute's displays are a bit complicated -- we've been through the rooms dedicated to medieval and Renaissance-era European things, but other areas are devoted to individual collections that have presumably been purchased or donated or collections devoted to a theme, in this case, art of the Church. So from this point on, chronology goes out the window. This cute little tempera on wood is just identified as Tuscan, ca. 1270.
Perhaps my favorite piece in the Institute -- what a charmer that kid is. Is it even a kid? A face like a stand-up comic from the 1950s. French, probably from Picardy, in ivory, ca. 1240/50.
In addition to Funny Christ Childs and Nursing Madonnas (and Beheadings), we collect Martyrs. This one is St Lucy (Lucia = light, ) of Syracuse, Sicily, who's said to have been tormented (including blinding) in the Diocletian Persecution of 304; she's the patron saint of the blind and carries her eyes around with her on a plate (or somebody's eyes), as well as her martyr's palm. This is Spanish and dated to about 1500, and made with both oil and gold.
This one is the famous Agatha of Sicily, Catania specifically, martyred in the Decian Persecution of 251 and presently the patron saint of breast cancer patients, wet nurses, and earthquakes. These two pieces probably once flanked a central picture, presumably the Virgin and Child.
This strange carving on pine wood, with some gilding, is said to be by Hans Klocker, a late 15th century Austrian, and was once part of an altarpiece in a Tyrolean parish church. It depicts the 12 apostles lamenting the 'Death of the Virgin', and apparently their hands once carried various useful items, now lost, like a candle, a censer, and an 'aspergillum' for spraying holy water about. Love the curly hairdos.
Here's St Peter Martyr again, this time before he acquired his meat cleaver in the head. In Antonio Vivarini's picture, the Dominican future assassination victim is 'Exorcising a Woman Possessed by a Demon' (1445/55), with one of the best fleeing demons we're likely to see very often. It's apparently one of a bunch of eight surviving panels of tempera on wood, which we're told probably surrounded a full-length image of the noted heretic hunter.
Guess who's who? First, St John the Baptist (wild man clothes and lamb), Catherine of Alexandria (wheel and martyr's palm), and 4th, St Peter (dangling keys to the Kingdom). The 3rd is St Augustine (crozier and fancy bishop's clothes, which he disdained in life). It's by Paolo Veneziano and workshop, about 1350, and is said to display Byzantine suggestions, appropriate to Venice's position at the interface between eastern and western Europe traditions.
Another beneficiary of Byzantine traditions, this tryptich dated to 1310/30, 'with Scenes from the Life of Christ', is Italian and probably from Venice. The Institute's label points out that it 'draws on the tradition of Byzantine icons, with their clear, codified gestures' (like her hand pointing to the Redeemer and the cheek-to-cheek tenderness).
The label continues: 'Examples of this icon type are found in the region of Venice, an important entry point for Byzantine art into Western Europe. Venetian artistic influence extended around the Adriatic basin, reaching coastal towns south of Venice and also present-day Croatia.'
This, though, is a very different tradition of the 'Holy Family', described only as South German and dated to 1440/60.
This is one of many, many depictions of Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach père (1472-1553), court painter and printmaker to the Electors of Saxony and a close friend of Martin Luther and other Protestant reformers. His Adam-and-Eve motif allowed him to deliver a strong moral lesson of the Fall and also paint some nudes.
Another picture of a well-to-do lady, this one by 'the Master of the Female Half-Lengths' from the Netherlands, ca. 1530 -- the traditional ointment jar seems to indicate that she is meant to represent Mary Magdalene, but nothing else in the picture is in the Magdalene tradition, and the painter seems more interested in portraying an ideal of the pious and at the same time elegant court lady.
Great, now we come to the good stuff (we'll have to go hunting for Kristin and Emily afterward, they won't tarry here).
It all appears to be basically early 16th century stuff, but actually our whole party can probably slide through here pretty quickly -- only, however, after . . .
. . . pausing to admire the beautiful headdresses of the jousting pikemen.
And wondering, as always before such exhibits, how anyone could see anything out of those helmets. Some of them would make a fierce knight look like a perfect idiot.
We're moving on now to the more modern sorts of things, like Impressonists and what not, including a host of famous 19th century fellows like Seurat (including the 'Sunday on La Grande Jatte', 1884), Toulouse-Lautrec (and the 'Moulin Rouge'), Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne, Camille Pissarro, and so on. None of those things come out very well with a cheap hand-held camera at the best of times, and certainly not for us.
But, of course, there's van Gogh.
But some of us were delighted to find a few works by one of our favorites, the Swiss symbolist Arnold Böcklin, though this one, 'In the Sea' (1883), hardly compares with paintings like his several versions of 'The Isle of the Dead', for which Rachmaninoff wrote a symphonic poem.
That's a French pelican, ca. 1896. With wings on.
And that indescribable thing, called 'Frog Man' by J-J Carriès, 1892, is indeed described on the label here as influenced by Japanese art and Social Darwinism.
We include this one here, which we don't like very much (nor much else by the Swiss Ferdinand Hodler), chiefly because it's a picture of the Grand Muveran, just as we viewed it every day from our backyard before we left Switzerland. We've tramped all about some of the places seen in the picture, including those glaciers extending down near the left horizon. Many people do like Hodler very much, and we visited a special exhibition of his work in the Musée d'art de Pully on Lake Geneva in 2018, at which time we described him as 'the famous Swiss painter who is beloved by people who love Hodler's work'.
Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931) from Finland, we're told, is best known for his illustrations of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, and this is called 'Ad Astra' (1907).
That's Whistler his own self (1869), by Walter Greaves. There are some of Whistler's own pictures here in the collections as well.
It may look like a Surrealist joke, but according to the label, this is a 'Statue of a Young Satyr Wearing a Theater Mask of Silenos', marble, Roman, ca. 1st century and restored in 1628.
Mermaids in the courtyard pool, evidently
This, as the text indicates on the wall above that Remington 'Advance Guard', is part of the Field-McCormick Galleries of American Arts [neat, 'noble savages, etc.] . . . but we're running out of time.
With only time to pause in admiration for 'Elaine' (1874), drawn from Tennyson's Arthurian Idylls of the King, by Toby Edward Rosenthal. She died of a broken heart when jilted by Sir Lancelot. According to the label, when this was shown in the USA, it created an Elaine fad, with clubs in her honor, dirges and waltzes published, and a sell-out of the poem printing.
Right then, enough of the hard floors, it's time for lunch.
Chicago hot dogs near 'The Bean' in Millennium Park