Friday, 18 February 2011

Rain, art & immortality

Palazzo di Brera

What distinguishes real art from ersatz art and tourist art is that real art has no shelf life, no use-by date. Real art is timeless.

And in a world which, to misquote Oscar Wilde, ‘knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’, it has become a commodity to be traded in the marketplace like any other.

Fortunately for us and for the world there are many public and municipal museums and art galleries in which the artistic treasures which belong to us all are preserved and put on display for public consumption at a modest entrance fee, and often at no fee at all, and one such is the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan.

I visited the gallery one rainy day. The rain, in fact, was torrential and had been for several days and was the main topic in the news. The cathedral, il Duomo, the main tourist attraction of Milan, was open, but visits to the roof were not. This was a disappointment, but the Pinacoteca was definitely on, so it was there that I headed.

I wanted to visit the famous art gallery for one specific reason: to see Raphael’s Lo Sposalizio della Vergine masterpiece, The Marriage of the Virgin. It is one of the glories of il Rinacimento, the Italian Renaissance.

I made my way to the rain soaked via Brera. The gallery façade was covered in tarpaulin, but the gallery was open, and I walked through the arch and into the magnificent Palazzo di Brera and into the gallery.

I paid my 5 euros and told a gallery assistant that I was looking for Lo Sposalizio. It seemed her most frequently asked question. She smiled, a curator’s smile straight from antiquity, and gave me my directions. 

Raphael painted his masterpiece in 1504, and it marks, according to the art historians, the transition from Early to High Renaissance. I found it without difficulty in Room XXIV.

The painting is oil on a wooden panel measuring 67 inches x 46 inches, and depicts the joining together in marriage of Joseph and Mary by a high priest. According to legend, each of Mary’s suitors was to place a rod on the holy altar, and whoever's rod was the first to flower would marry Mary. Attending Joseph are five of the failed suitors, one of whom is breaking his rod.

I looked at the painting for about 10 minutes, then at the other paintings in the room, then moved on to the next room and joined the flock of the faithful moving from room to room, canvas to canvas, reverential sheep from a secular world, as close as we would get to immortality.

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