1 Feb

Yesterday I attended a series of 3 lectures at the Met, all of which focused on the idea of misconceptions. I thoroughly enjoyed the first one and found it incredibly interesting, during the second one I reverted to my art history class habit of doodling to escape boredom, and the third one made me laugh until I cried. I’ll briefly bullet point what I learned / found most interesting from each.

Sunday at the Met

1. Painting Restored! Is That Really Possible? – Michael Gallagher

  • A painting cannot be restored to absolute pristine glory, but aspects of its quality and integrity can be.
  • What artists choose to use as their media determines how it fares . For example, in his painting Women Picking Olives Van Gogh used cochineal powder to create his red paint even though it has the propensity to fade. Because of this,  the painting’s color changed radically over the years. Conservators understand these changes but they are irreversible.
  • All stages of conservation are documented.
  • Even a simple varnish can markedly change the intent and meaning of a piece.
  • Because paintings usually hung in homes and became a part of everyday life, they were extremely susceptible to environmental factors. One photographic example in the presentation showed what a heavy layer of nicotine did to the color of a Cranach. Another painting’s cracking from impact was due to it’s hanging in a home, potentially subjected to thrown bread or repeated hits from a shuttlecock (Gallagher’s reasonings).
  • Most importantly, paintings should not be turned into archeological discoveries. Though it’s fascinating to see the changes an artist implemented while creating it, they were not meant to be seen in the finished project. The intent of the artist should be honored.

2. Icon- A Word with Many Meanings — Helen C. Evans

  • The main point was that any image used for veneration and devotion is an icon, it does not have to be a painting on a wooden panel.
  • Icons evolved to meet the needs of the spiritual community.

3. How to Mount a Horse in Armor and Other Chivalric Problems — Dirk H. Breiding

  • Because armor is associated with so many romantic/ gruesome ideas and is popular among visitors, it tends to create the most misconceptions.
  • Not many suits from the medieval period remain; armor showcases many artistic and technological advances of the time.
  • Knights were not the only people allowed to wear armor, almost man owned one.
  • Armor was created for men to wear in battle, therefore it was not insanely heavy. Its usually flexible and allows the wearer to have full range of motion.
  • Most importantly, it was never so heavy that a crane was necessary to lift the wearer onto a horse. You simply inserted a foot into the stirrup and hoisted yourself into the saddle. If it was physically taxing, a friend was all that was required to help you. No cranes necessary.

–Breiding made his point using many photographic examples, clips from movies the Met produced in the 1920s (one of which included a curator of the time wearing one of the Met’s full suits of armor to demonstrate how it was worn / moved), and referenced popular culture examples which perpetuated falsities about armor.

I can’t wait to visit the Arms and Armor gallery ( for what will be the second time ever) and really think about what I’m seeing. These lectures reiterated to me that keeping an open mind is important in viewing art.


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