Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What Paintings to Save?

We were at the MET the other day and just happened to be strolling by Brueghel's "The Harvesters," a monumental picture that seems to capture in one breathtaking view the entire sweep of the late medieval economy, and it suddenly hit me that perhaps some works at the MET are so valuable that there is a contingency plan for saving these priceless works during a fire, a flood, or some other emergency. I became so fascinated with this idea that I couldn't resist approaching one of the guards at the MET to learn if there is such a plan. He had a fairly thick Italian accent and had been an employee at the MET for three years. When Karen and I asked him about this, he joked that he couldn't possibly tell us which paintings were the most valuable, because then we would know which paintings to abscond with if such an emergency should occur. I wondered about the Brueghel, but he rightly answered that the canvas is far too large to pull down from the wall and walk away with. He then volunteered his own candidate - "the Duccio" he said. "I would seize the Duccio." He was referring to Duccio Buoninsegna's "Mother and Child" from about 1300 AD, which also hangs in the MET and is reportedly worth well over 50 million dollars. It is also worth noting that the guard's previous boss, Philippe de Montebello, former Director of the MET, has referred to this painting as "one of the great single acquisitions of the last half century."

Consider your own favorite museum. Of all the works displayed there, which one would you want to make sure was saved from flames, water, or earthquake?

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