Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Offering of the Angels: Treasures from the Uffizi Gallery" at Doylestown

Botticelli, Madonna and Child

The Philadelphia visit described in previous posts was actually a kind of side trip in our mini-vacation. The original purpose of the trip was to see the exhibit titled "Offering of the Angels: Treasures from the Uffizi Gallery" at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

The first stop on our trip was Princeton, New Jersey. The university campus must be worth a good look itself -- when it's not broiling weather, as it was during our stopover. I did go inside the Gothic Revival cathedral-like chapel and was a little disappointed. It's large and imposing, with stained glass and stylistically accurate detailing. But I found it curiously lacking in personality, unlike most real European Gothic cathedrals. Maybe it had something to do with the thing being aggressively nondenominational, a generic cathedral.

The main reason for going to Princeton was the university art museum. This isn't the usual collection of odds and sods that passes for an art museum at most American universities; it's small but first class. Well "worth a detour" as the Michelin Guide might say. And it's free, although the parking is a nuisance -- in a remote area, from which you catch a shuttle to the main campus. (The town was surprisingly crowded for June.)

The Uffizi exhibit was our last port of call. It was a relief to leave Philadelphia, I tell you. Soon we were in obviously well-to-do Bucks Country, where Doylestown is found. I'd never been in that area before and it was pleasing; once you get out of the Philly penumbra -- north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike -- it becomes historic and tidy, almost Vermont-like.

We stopped at a casual restaurant for breakfast and encountered a shock. There -- and at the Wendy's where we had a late lunch -- the waitresses were white American girls. No foreign accents. At the Wendy's, my chicken sandwich took a few minutes to manufacture and when it was ready the waitress from behind the counter brought it to our table. What a different world from the Washington burbs.

That will likely change. I have no doubt the movers and shakers of Bucks County are properly overflowing with white guilt and working to make sure their communities become "vibrant." 

Alessandro Tiarini, Nativity of Jesus

So we arrive at Doylestown and the Michener Museum. It might seem astonishing that the famous Uffizi in Florence would allow any of its works to travel. According to the brief introductory film, these pictures are among the many that the Uffizi -- huge as it is -- doesn't have room to place in the permanent collection.

Some haven't been on view for ages, or ever publicly shown. That doesn't mean any lack of quality. The Renaissance aristos and cardinals who commissioned these had an eye for artistic talent. 

There's only one Botticelli, and that much restored in the 19th century, and a few "school of" and "workshop of" paintings with famous names. Not to worry. Many of the artists were unfamiliar to me, but most of their paintings caught and held my gaze. Several seemed to me masterpieces that I'd never heard of. I should have taken notes for this posting to be more specific, but in the presence of so much beauty -- and piety -- that would have felt academic.

Yes: piety. This was perhaps the only art exhibition I've ever been to with an avowedly Christian theme (as opposed to shows of artists who painted Christian subjects). It centered on the life of Jesus, the paintings arranged chronologically from the annunciation to Mary, through the birth of Jesus, his teaching and miracles, the last supper, the crucifixion, the resurrection.

How could this be in our obsessively multi-culti and "inclusive" age? I wonder whether the museum trustees felt uncomfortable, or even argued over the propriety, of an art exhibition about the life of Christ? Perhaps only under cover of the Uffizi's prestige was it possible. However it was managed, I'm grateful for it.


Anonymous said...

If one is looking at art from the Gothic or Renaissance period, it would be hard to avoid subject matter that is devoid of Christianity. Even Botticelli's birth of Venus, presumably to resurrect the Classical/Antique period, ends up with Venus looking like the Virgin Mary, i.e., demure and modest, rather then the seductive temptress Venus was. Note the woman on the right rushing to cover her, and the angels in the heavens.

Hope you had a nice holiday.

We will be off soon on our yearly journey to France, and then on to Italy via the Switzerland.


Rick Darby said...


Thanks, and bon voyage to you!