Karen Love Blumenthal invited me to attend a fun interactive talk about how to look at Renaissance Art at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum on the Rollins College Campus. The workshop was conducted by her husband Arthur Blumenthal the Director Emeritus of the museum. He began his talk by outlining the five steps that are needed to truly look at a work of art.
1. Become fully present and put aside your opinions. Usually when we enter a gallery, we immediately say, "Oh, I like this painting or I can't stand that painting." He insisted we curb such opinions until we fully studied the art.
2. Move into the objects "Looking Space" and move around the object while looking. At this point the first impression can be stated.
3. Determine the medium used.
4. Observe and describe the art in meticulous detail offering subject matter, composition, the light source. It is important to describe the art as if no one else had ever seen it.
5. Restate or sum up the main points or total impact.
The 20 or so patrons were then split up into groups and each group was assigned a Renaissance work of art to study. One person from each group was then given the task of describing the art using the five rules of observation. It was fascinating listening to people describe the art. Each person brought their own viewpoints and background into the process. One man truly didn't like the portrait he was asked to discuss but in the end, Arthur let him know it was a rare Tintoretto portrait and probably the most valuable painting in the collection. It was good that such information did not distort the patrons' view.
Lunch served at a long table in the front gallery. The scene was reminiscent of Leonardo DaVinci's Last Supper. The man seated next to me let me know that he spends the five summer months out of each year living on an island in Maine. When we got back to the Renaissance gallery, he had to describe a complex painting of Noah's Arc. He described the chaotic collection of animals and when he backed up, he was able to see the overall flow of the piece. Arthur went on to describe the umber under painting which was allowed to show through in spots.
Renaissance came from the Italian word rinascita meaning "Rebirth." This rebirth came about as ancient Roman and Greek statues were being discovered. Michelangelo sculpted amazing forgeries early in his career. There was an astonishing confluence of artistic genius in that era. There was also powerful banking families like the Medici who appreciated and paid for art. Ahhh... Those were the days. Of course there was also the plague, inquisition and plenty of wars, but that is a small price to pay.