Thursday, February 4, 2010


The same day I went to witness those bizarre but fascinating happenings at the Guggenheim, I also stopped by the Met to see a new exhibit of some 60 drawings by the Renaissance Mannerist artist Agnolo Bronzino. If the Guggenheim's show is the cutting edge of contemporary conceptualist art, then perhaps the Met's show represents the sturdy traditionalism of beautifully crafted, perfectly proportioned representational painting. To me, anyway, manerists like Bronzino are seeking to put forward a perfectly marbled, super-real representation of human beings. Every muscle is ideally flexed, every vein raised to underscore the subject's impressive muscalature. The poses show heads turned in strange and unlikely ways and sometimes, as in Bronzino's Portrait of a Young Man, the two eyes are cast in opposite directions to attract attention, not necessarily to accurately capture reality.

There is no question that Bronzino is a master draftsman, able to put on canvas faces and bodies that are supremely beautiful. But in the end I'm not that dazzled, because I don't think he is able to show us distinctive personalities with his art. His faces are a bit too bland, a little too perfect in terms of proportionality, but with surprisingly little effort devoted to what makes his subjects stand out as human beings. Perhaps it is always wrong to compare any other painter to Rembrandt, but with Rembrandt, his subjects come alive. They have personalities and character flaws that really do remind us of real people. I don't get this sense with Bronzino. Another way to say this is that the psychology of his subjects does not come through at all. How they have lived, what they are thinking, and what they expect from the future is entirely absent. And without these hints, these wonderful portraits, as beautiful as they are, can never fully command my attention or appreciation.

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