Cultural Osmosis: One More Thanks to Mr. Getty

Previously, yours truly went to the Getty Villa. This time, I went to the Getty Museum. The difference between the two? Plenty, but when you’re as rich as Mr. Getty was, you don’t need need to justify your spending decisions to many people.

In any case, I arrived at the Getty on a beautiful Saturday morning, sun on my face, wind in my hair. After the obligatory stop at the cafeteria, I thought to myself, “what’s a better way to celebrate this good life than by visiting Heaven, Hell, and Dying Well?”.

Exhibition of Manuscripts at the Getty Museum from May 29-Aug 12, 2012

As you can see from the poster describing the exhibit above,  Heaven, Hell, and Dying Well: Images of Death in the Middle Ages is a rotating exhibit of manuscripts from the Middle Ages. The exhibit may purport to be about death and heaven and hell, but the manuscripts on display tell a different story. When the people of the Middle Ages thought about death, they did not think about heaven; no images of a soft, fluffy heaven with white, gently flowing clouds filled their heads. No; hell, terrifying hell and death anthropomorphized, were uppermost on their minds, to the exclusion of anything else, it seems.

The oldest manuscript on exhibit, mid-13th century

German manuscript from 1469

Denise Poncher before a Vision of Death, 1500

Check out the description of this Prayer Book owned by Denise Poncher, for instance. The illumination — that’s illustration when found in expensive, rare manuscripts for you — is of Denise Poncher “shown kneeling with her prayer book before a terrifying spectacle: the walking corpse of Death and three of his victims. The image likely served to remind the viewer that Death could arrive at any time and that prayer could prepare one’s soul.” Man, imagine spending all that money to commission a book only to have it carry a personalized threat to one’s life. This is like buying a house with a pool where the risk of drowning, perhaps in the form of pictures of bloated bodies of the drowned, is emblazoned on the shining pool bottom. “Only swimming lessons can prepare you”. Muawhahaha.

You may have noticed that the photos I took of the manuscript exhibit were quite dark. I mean that literally. The photos are all black-lit because the lights in the exhibit hall were dimmed since the manuscripts — animals skins to be exact — are prone to damage due to light. (One can only wonder what the bright lights in the other places, not to mention the sun outside, is doing to my skin. But I’m no invaluable Middle Age manuscript.) Nonetheless, the manuscripts were not so fragile as to disallow photography altogether. Not so with Gustav Klimt: The Magic of Line.

The only photograph you’ll see of Gustav Klimt: The Magic of Lines

This will be the only picture you see of the special exhibit celebrating Klimt’s 150th birthday from my trip to the Getty. Photography — flash off or not — was not at all allowed in the hall. However, you can check out the drawings that were on display by visiting the Getty site. Please note that these are Klimt’s drawings and not his final-product paintings. I think of it as seeing Hemmingway’s drafts — scraps of prose written on the proverbial napkins. Whether that’s more, less, or the cop-out, differently exciting than reading the finished A Farewell to Arms is up to you to decide.

We now move on to the paintings. To say that the Getty has a lot of European paintings would be a wee bit of an understatement. I’ll just say that I saw some European paintings while I was at the Getty. It seems odd to me to be taking photos of paintings — trying for exact replications of inexact reproductions of the actual things. Nonetheless, I obliged and took a few.

Portrait of Anne, Countess of Chesterfield

View of the Grand Canal and the Dogana

Mischief and Repose

I took this photo of John William Godward’s Mischief and Repose from the shock of recognizing it. Coming upon the original painting of a picture you recognize from cheap, reprint shops is the equivalent of seeing into an acquaintance you made at the bargain 99 Cents market suddenly pop up at Neiman Marcus. Mischief indeed.

Takings pictures of paintings may be strange, but snapping photos of others taking pictures of paintings seems OK. Artistically justified & all. (I did make sure that the photo I took reveals no identifying information. Privacy & all that.)

The Farewell of Telemachus and Eucharis

Likewise, photos of sculptures are also a-OK. Check on the mustache on Mr. Gérôme. Impressive!

Bust of Jean-Léon Gérôme

Finally, I leave you with the most popular painting in the Getty’s collection: Vincent van Gogh’s oil on canvas, entitled Irises, painted 1889. Doesn’t it look great? It looked great from the vantage of my camera’s lense when I took this picture, which is the closest I got to it.

van Gogh’s Irises: The Most Popular Painting at the Getty

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