What to do on Valentine’s Day?

a) Dodge raindrops and potholes.
b) Run into your ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend (not while driving, mind you).
c) Look at a bunch of old paintings.
d) All of the above.

Needless to say, the paintings were the best part. It’s not every day you get to stand in a room with a Rembrandt, a Rubens, an El Greco, and nine other impressive Baroque pictures. My favourite was the only anonymous work, The Penitent Saint Jerome in his Study by a painter known as the Pensionante del Saraceni. (The name, “Saraceni’s lodger,” indicates that he painted after the style of Saraceni.) Perhaps I liked it because it is so close to Lent, but I also think it was the most dramatic picture in the room. You can see that Jerome has dropped his work suddenly and flung himself onto his knees, knocking over his stool and allowing half his robe to slip off. In front of him are his crucifix, scourge, stone (to beat his breast with), and a skull. It’s a wonder how the painter could make such strong symbols look so natural. There’s certainly a touch of the medieval—the perspective isn’t perfect and the lion seems just a little out of place—but I think the picture makes up for it in passion.

Sadly, the lighting in the gallery was not great; the ceilings are too low for large paintings and the tops of the taller paintings were obscured by glare from the lights. But it’s a small inconvence compared to the convenience having great European works of art come to your town!

For the record, here’s what I saw:

The Penitent Saint Jerome in his Study by the Pensionante del Saraceni
The Fortune-teller by Simon Vouet
St. Francis and Brother Leo Meditating on Death by El Greco
The Entombment by Peter Paul Rubens
The Annunciation of the Virgin’s Death by Paulus (called Orlando) Bor
Job by Jan Lievens
A Woman at her Toiletby Rembrandt van Rijn
The Vision of St. Dominic by Bernardo Cavallino
A Young Cavalier Executing a Levade in the Presence of Mars and Mercury by Jacob Jordaens
Landscape with a Woman Washing her Feet by Nicolas Poussin
The Rape of Europa by Caesar Boetius van Everdingen
An Allegory of the Arts by Guiseppe Maria Crespi

The Penitent Saint Jerome in his Study by the Pensionante del Saraceni

20 comments on “What to do on Valentine’s Day?

  1. Andrew says:

    Oh superb. I'm going there tomorrow.
    Thanks for the heads up, Sylvia.

  2. Sylvia says:

    Great! I hope you'll come back and share your thoughts on it.

  3. Cinnimani says:

    I always meant to ask–what is the significance of the skull that's always in paintings of St. Jerome?

  4. Wil Cone says:

    Watch out for the lion!! [Google: St. Jerome] Ohh, ok, never mind.

  5. Stefanie says:

    What a nice way to spend the day and I am glad you didn't actually run over your ex-boyfriend however tempting it may have been 🙂

  6. Sylvia says:

    The skull is a reminder of death and thus a warning to consider what may come after and live one's life accordingly. Apparently St. Ignatius of Loyola recommended that people pray with an actual skull! It reminds me somewhat of the Buddhist meditation where you imagine your body dead and decaying in order to accept your own death.
    Bookish types should honour St. Jerome for his great work of translating the entire Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. Somehow he still found time to pull thorns out of lions' paws and do lots of penance.

  7. Cinnimani says:

    ooOOOOooo. Thanks for explaining it to me. One of the libraries on-campus has several reproductions of St. Jerome hanging on the walls.

  8. Sylvia says:

    There you go. He's the patron saint of librarians as well as translators and encyclopedists.

  9. Andrew says:

    OK, just got back from the museum (and a side trip to Sorenson's Books, a great little bookstore)
    My favourite painting was definitely Job by Lievens, but I also liked The Fortune Teller. Some of them though left me completely cold. I think, as a rule, I don't get the Baroque style.

  10. Gawain says:

    But you don't tell us whether you liked any of it, and which, and why…
    I like the hand-warmer from your next post, too. But now I have to look at your paintings to see what I would have liked.

  11. Gawain says:

    Well, you do tell us that you liked the St Jerome (sorry, I was commenting in response to what I could remember of your post from glacing at it yesterday — I live in my own little world sometimes and forget there are other peope on internet, too), and why.
    But what about the other paintings? (I'm very interested in other people's tastes if they can tell me WHY they like something, and you are doing a good job of it, above par!)
    I think my favorite would be the Poussin… but I liked the gentleman executing the Levade, too: a fanciful topic and a crazy color scheme to match. and i am strangely touched by the announciation: what a wonderful idea: that a beautiful angel may appear to a woman past her middle age.
    i notice your museum has a bit of a baroque feast. and while I am not a huge fan of this style of painting, I love the decorative arts of the period, which are also on show (it seems from the description). have you been to that exhibition? what pieces were on show? where could I see their photos?
    i found you through von karajanstein's blog — he's an old (internet) friend.

  12. Sylvia says:

    Andrew, from what I read in the exhibition catalogue, there really isn't a Baroque style of painting. The exhibition shows some of the range of artistic tastes and uses of art (public and private; religious, classical, and popular). There is a general theme of naturalism, but as you saw there was quite a bit of latitude with that.

  13. Sylvia says:

    Hello Gawain! Apart from St. Jerome, I particularly liked the El Greco (St. Francis), Rubens (Entombment), and Lievens (Job) for their subjects and naturalism. I did have a gripe with El Greco: the expression on St. Francis' face is rather sad and wistful, which I don't think is an accurate portrayal of his attitude towards “Sister Death.” But overall the painting had a very nice feel to it.
    The Rembrandt was wonderful for its glow. Looking at it closely (one of the nice things about the exhibit was being able to get very close to the paintings), I saw blotches of paint and rough brush strokes. Step back and it's all glow and diaphanous fabrics. Magic.
    You aren't kidding about the colour scheme in the Levade painting. I think those colours are burned on my retinas. It's hard to believe it is 350 years old. It's as bright as if it were painted yesterday.
    I didn't take to the Poussin or van Everindingen, mainly because of the subjects–women as sex objects. The Annunciation looked a bit kitschy to me, the Cavallino a bit less so; they were intended for devotion so it's no wonder.
    The Allegory of the Arts didn't appeal, but I don't think there is anything wrong with it. I think I just don't get that style of art. The lighting wasn't good for that one.
    Finally, The Fortune Teller was interesting. It's supposed to be comic but the portrayal of the gypsy is so natural and beautiful that it really seems to be showing up the vulgar Romans.

  14. Sylvia says:

    Oh, as for the other Baroque exhibit, “Misshapen Pearl,” I raced through it pretty quickly as my energy was flagging. There were ceramics of various kinds, some clothes, tapestries, paintings, etchings (including Rembrandts), and furniture. You can see some of the items in the image galleries here. You could also try searching their collection, but there doesn't seem to be a way to zero in on just this exhibit.

  15. Gawain says:

    Ah, Sylvia, but women ARE sex objects! (Among many other things, of course). Though the Poussin is hardly about that at all: it's all landscape; the mythological scene is a mere excuse (he was one of the first pure landscape paintes in Europe; and people always said: what do you mean “landscape”?! so he added a mythological figure somewhere). i keep coming back to the annunciation, though: an angel announcing to a woman her impending death; Virgin mary deserving that in her own right (rather than only as a mother of soon to be born God); a middle aged woman — a woman in her third age, as they say — engaging a beautiful young man: no possibility of romance, but a sense of beauty and longing and warmth all the same. what a beautiful subject!
    Thanks for the link to the Baroque pearl. alas, it only shows paintings (in the typical modern european prejudice which celebrates painting, no matter how bland, and overlooks the embroidery and the pottery, no matter how grand). but i will look at them all the same.

  16. gawain says:

    And about St Jerome: he is dear to me not because he translated the bible (for which I am not sure that we need to be all that grateful — i am an atheist) but because his religion interfered with his love of the classics; he stopped reading Cicero and Sallust and such on the convinction that they were sinful and kept him away from god; but in his old age he admitted that they still tempted him. in other words, he was a lover of books. what a tragic figure.
    there is another genre of painting associated with St jerome — called St Augustine in his study. this shows St Augustine writing a letter to his friend (and fellow doctor of the church) and suddenly looking up: he hears the words of good bye from St Jerome who died at that instant at a place very far away. these are often very poetic paintings, like the one by carpaccio.

  17. Sylvia says:

    So, putting two and two together, are you saying that the middle-aged Virgin Mary is a sex object?!? :O Hie ye, heathen!
    Oops, sorry, I've been reading too much Shakespeare! 😉

  18. Gawain says:

    Absolutely incorrigible. (The name — Gawain — is really just a disguise for a dirty old man).
    I mention your post in my last production and will give you a link either today or tomorrow because this is A NICE PLACE.
    (can't get over that gentleman executing the levade… did you see? thats actually a sketch for a wall tapestry! how much do you want to bet the gentleman is the sponsor who paid for it — and then hung it on his living room wall?)

  19. Cam says:

    I do like Paulus' Annunciation, but don't you think that the expression on her face says “What? This is it?” Not exactly how I would imagine it. The ray of sunshine streaming with flowers is a wonderful depiction, isn't it?

  20. Sylvia says:

    Gawain: No one is completely incorrigible! I'll pray to the Virgin for you. 😉
    Cam, I agree, I don't think Mary was the type to be easily startled!

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