Saturday, September 27, 2014

Perugino, Master of Raphael @ Jacquemart-André Musée

Fragment of Raphael's Baronci Altarpiece from the Brescia
Like all of the exhibitions of Renaissance masterpieces that I see in Paris, my first reaction to the Pérugin, Maître de Raphael exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-André was wonder. I was amazed at the sight of all these priceless paintings in one small space. Given all the difficulties of negotiating the loans, transporting, handling of these fragile paintings, most of which look as though they just left the artist’s studio because they are so clean and vivid, and because most Renaissance masterpieces just don’t travel, seeing them together in this exhibition is a must. In addition, some of these works are being shown in France for the first time, and all of them are superbly presented in the intimate of the space of the Jacquemart-André. In fact, one of the real treats here is the possibility to move up close to these treasures and see each brushstroke as though we are watching it being painted.
Raphael, Predellas from the Fano and Oddi altarpieces
Vatican Museums
My favourite room was towards the end with the three predella panels, including those from the Fano, the Oddi altarpieces from the Vatican Museums and the two Tondos from Nantes. For me, the predellas are the most intimate of Raphael’s work, painted with the labour of love, not always as important as the main altar piece because they were not necessarily going to be looked at, even seen, by most congregation members. Because traditionally the predella was not a part of the main commission, artists freely explored their talents in such panels. and therefore, filled them with a delicacy and intimacy that isn’t apparent in the larger pieces. The opportunity to be up close to the predellas is once in a lifetime – every tiny gesture, every blemish of the skin is so delicately painted and placed and as I peered into the strains of the colours, I thought I saw Raphael’s hand moving across the panels. In these, the luminescent blues, reds, the opalescent skin, the complicated folds of fabric, all of the features that were signature of both Raphael and Perugino’s work, and indeed, of the Renaissance more generally, are heightened by the size, the delicacy of these narratives.  We see a head turn, a surprised expression, a mule in repose, all of which are so delicately painted, it is as if they make up a private world, into which we are invited to all.

Raffaello Angelo 2 (frammento pala Baronci).jpg
Fragment of the Baronci Altarpiece by Raphael in the Louvre
The four surviving pieces of Raphael’s Baronci Altarpiece are also brought together here and are resplendent. The Louvre’s angel is also on display here, with its wonderful story of being discovered following a conversation in a taxi in Strasbourg with one of the curators from the Louvre. The angel from the Brescia is more beautiful though, reminding of the Madonnas in deep reflection painted in previous years, also on display in an earlier room. The sketches of the entire altarpiece from Lille accompany the four surviving fragments to give the overall arrangement, and also indicating that the entire piece was Raphael’s creation.
Perugino, Don Baldassare di Antonio di Angelo. c. 1499
Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze
Two monks from the Uffizi, who were once placed at the corners of an altarpiece are divine for their simplicity of execution. Their heads look up in veneration to, presumably, Christ on the cross. The tender and rich Saint Jerome from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is so sensuous that again, it’s not possible to resist his intimate world. What makes him special is his pure white dress against the dense landscape of the desert, foregrounding his figure as well as his purpose.
Perugino, Saint Sebastian, c. 1500
Perugino’s most appealing characters are deep in reflection; even Saint Sebastian, his body pierced with arrows seems to be transcending the pain he must be feeling, still alive, to fall into deep reflection. These figures are dreamy and mystical, yet lifelike thanks to the freshness of their skin, the delicacy of their expressions. Still, the best part of this exhibition is being up close, sharing the same air as these 500 year old treasures. Once inside and in the sway of the skin and fabrics of the paintings, the veracity or otherwise of the claim that Perugino was Raphael’s master, ceases to matter.

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