Museum Review

Germanisches Museum, Nürnberg

Rembrandt-selbstbildnis-1629 From Prague we headed back to Franconia, to see the early Rembrandts at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg. Before heading to the museum, we took a brief tour of the Altstadt, walking past St. Lorenz, across the Fleischbrücke to the Hauptmarkt, where we admired the Frauenkirche and the Schöner Brunnen. We made our way to the Rathaus, and sat outside St. Sebald, then wandered up to the Albrecht-Dürer-Haus. After a very pleasant lunch at the Albrecht-Dürer-Stube, a place completely decorated with embroidered linen and framed Dürer prints, we went to the museum itself, which turned out to be undergoing renovations. Thus, only one Rembrandt was on display, the Self-Portrait (c. 1629), a copy of which exists in Den Haag.

In this panel (38 x 31 cm) Rembrandt is in his early twenties, wearing a gorget, the left side of his face in shadow. He gazes directly at the viewer, looking quite young but dignified. The painting was thought to be a workshop copy of the painting in Den Haag, but the opposite turns out to be the case, and the Nürnberg painting is the original.

We took a look at a few Dürer paintings, the most interesting of which may be the Portrait of Michael Wolgemut, 1516. Dürer was apprenticed to the painter and printmaker Wolgemut from 1486 to 1489. The museum also has an impressive collection of musical instruments, and it was fun to see their glass harmonica up close.

We were drawn to the special exhibit at Spielzeugsammlung of the Germanisches Museum which is housed in a different building than the main museum. At the moment their exhibition entitled "Der Allererste Struwwelpeter" celebrates the 200th birthday of Heinrich Hoffmann, the author of Der Stuwwelpeter. The annex is worth going to if one has an interest in dollhouses or paper theaters. The latter was more interesting to us, some of the paper theaters seemed to be designs of opera productions.

National Gallery, Prague

Prague-rembrandt When my Bayreuth trip came together, I agreed to go on a Rembrandt tour of Belgium and the Netherlands directly afterwards. The friend who accompanied me to the Festspiele has a bit of an obsession with the Dutch painter, and because she did not manage to see the painting in Prague, I offered to take her, given the relative proximity of Bayreuth to the Czech Republic. This involved waking up at 5 in the morning, taking the train to Kirchenlaibach, then connecting to Marktredwitz, and still again switching trains in Cheb. Weirdly enough, I've done this more than once, and in the station in Cheb I was struck by how silly it was for us to be drinking coffee in this small bordertown. Everyone else on this particular morning was eating soup and drinking beer. It also occurred to me, that my Czech has deteriorated to three words: pivo (beer), káva (coffee), and páni (gentlemen).

In any case, we did make it to Prague in the afternoon, and naturally left luggage was closed at Praha hlavní nádraží. So we dragged our luggage to the main branch of the Národní Muzeum, bought tickets, and left our luggage there before racing across town, as the Rembrandt is housed in the Sternberg Palace (Šternberský Palác) near Pražský hrad. I had not counted on the Charles Bridge being so crowded, so it took a good deal of time. Generally, I must have looked rather annoyed, for my facial expression when someone offered me a flyer for some concert made him jump back.

We went directly to see Rembrandt's Scholar in His Study, 1634, an oil on canvas (145 x 134.9 cm). I find this painting particularly sympathetic for an early work, the warmth of the red in the scholar's cap contrasted with the bluish black of his mantel is pleasing. Also the shape of the composition is somehow gratifying to the eye, though the books are not especially well-rendered.

Afterward we wandered the rest of the two floors of the museum, and I was unable to find Dürer's Feast of the Rose Garlands. We did admire both Bronzino's Portrait of Eleonora da Toledo (c. 1545) and El Greco's Head of Christ (1590-95).

Das Pergamonmuseum

* Notes *
Yesterday I had an outing to the
Pergamonmuseum in Berlin-Mitte, a museum I've been to a handful of times before, but never grow tired of. The museum itself dates from 1910, and was built to house the Pergamon Altar, and it is set to be overhauled in 2011. It was raining, and I arrived a bit late to miss the crowds of school groups. The museum was filled to capacity, and they weren't letting people in, so I was first what became a rather long line. People became impatient, and came up to the people just behind me to ask what was the matter, as I apparently to not look like an authority. One particular woman with a school group was unsatified with the answers she got, although I told her the building was full, she pretended I did not speak and opened the door in front of me to talk to the guard. He basically told her the same thing I had said, and she was very concerned about how long we would have to wait. He told her he really did not know how long it would be before people started leaving the museum so that the rest of us could go in, and his best guess was perhaps 20 minutes. In any case, he did let a few of us in within five minutes or so.

The museum was filled with teenagers from Germany, France, and Italy, many of them with school groups. But since such groups tend to move people in and out quickly, it was not terrible, after 20 minutes the gallery where the Pergamon Altar resides was fairly clear. The Hellenistic altar is from the 2nd century BCE, and was excavated from near what is now Bergama, Turkey in 1879 and 1904. The work depicts a struggle between the Greek gods against the giants, and was especially interesting to me as I have just been reading about the representation of classical subjects in the Renaissance.

After admiring the Pergamon Altar, I went to look at the Market Gate of Miletus, but it was quite covered in scaffolding and plastic. Thankfully, the 6th century BCE Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way remained on view, and I was quite please to see all that lovely ultramarine blue tile again. Built on the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar II, this work features dragons, cattle, and lions.

Just upstairs from the Processional way is the Islamic Art Museum (Museum für Islamische Kunst), which I had not been to before. The Aleppo Room from Syria was most impressive. The painted wood paneling decorated a living room in a Christian household and dates from 1601-1603.

* Tattling *
Some German teenagers very excitedly complimented my shoes. A French school group was particularly inappropriate and spoke about me as if I could neither hear nor see them. They also pointed and stared, but I suppose one does not see brightly arrayed post-modern square dancers everyday. Even still French is hardly good secret code, even when spoken in Germany.

La Loge News

LalogeA version of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's La Loge (1874) is going on auction at Sotheby's next Tuesday. A larger likeness of Nini and Edmond in a Paris Opera box exists at the at the Courtauld Gallery in London. Interestingly, a special exhibit there entitled "Renoir at the Theatre: Looking at La Loge" begins February 21 and runs until May 25, and they are hoping whomever purchases the small painting will lend it.

I have no memory of this picture at all, though I was at the Courtauld in 1999. The gallery is pleasingly tiny, but it is quite likely I did not even go into the Impressionism and Post-Impressionism rooms. What I remember best is the very fierce looking Fra Angelico Magdalene, flanking an Imago Pietatis.

Should you decide to go, do note that there is a £5 admission fee for adults, but that this covers the special exhibit.

The Times Article | La Loge at the Courtauld Gallery


ChicagorembrandtThis is my first time in Chicago, in fact, my first time to the Midwest. Other than when we visited my aunt and uncle in New Mexico, in my childhood, we rarely left California. There was the time we went to Cape Canaveral to see a space shuttle launch, a school trip to Washington D.C., a tour of gardens in Washington State and British Colombia, and a Hawai'ian vacation, in which I sullenly listened to my CD player the whole time.

Since then I've done a bit more travel, going on study abroad in Bayreuth, which wasted on me, as I did not care for Wagner at the time. At least, I was able to wander around and see significant Rembrandt or Dürer collections. So I did manage to get to half a dozen Western European capitals, though I also went to Prague, as it was nearby.

I did not make it to New York until after college. I certainly was impressed by the Metropolitan Opera, detailing this in my rather embarrassing reviews of Le Nozze di Figaro and War and Peace.

At any rate, I am presently in Chicago, and am colder than I have been in years. I had forgotten how -14 C hurts the face. Yesterday I ventured over to The Art Institute of Chicago, with the sole purpose of seeing their Old Man in a Gorget and Black Cap, circa 1631. This oil on panel is 83.1 centimeters high and 75.7 centimeters long. This tronie is all one could want of an early Rembrandt: fanciful dress, strong composition, nobility of character, beautifully rendered textures, and a stately palette. None of Pieter Lastman's lurid floridness remains.

The painting is from the same period as the portrait of Joris de Caulerii at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. There are many familiar elements in the Chicago painting, for one, the model appears more than once in Rembrandt's work, for instance, Scholar in His Study, 1634 in Prague. The gorget is the same as the one in the Nuremberg self-portrait, the slashed black beret shows up in the Scene of the Prodigal Son in the Tavern in Dresden, the chain is worn by Rembrandt in his circa 1630-1631 self-portrait now in Liverpool.

As I sat in Gallery 208, I could hear the tour guide speaking on some 14th century anonymous paintings of female saints from the Netherlands and South Germany in the next room. I heard him explain the legend of St. Ursula and the attributes of Mary Magdalene. I was curious to hear what he would say about Rembrandt, but the tour simply walked through the room to another gallery entirely. I found A Lady Reading (Saint Mary Magdalene), circa 1520/40 to be more to my liking than the Triptych of the Virgin and Child with Saints, 1505/15, though the plants and birds of the latter are lovely.

I only made a cursory tour of the rest of the museum and would especially like to look at the classical art and The Ayala Altarpiece more carefully. It is quite a collection. Even I was taken aback by the large number of Monet wheatstack paintings, they look like muffins to me and this is just so pleasing. Back home we only have the one at the Getty.

The only exhibition I saw was Girls on the Verge: Portraits of Adolescence, which made me feel deeply uncomfortable. Rineke Dijkstra's photographs of girls in bathing suits were particularly unsettling.