Gardner: build and they will come

A bowl of fresh violets, Isabella Stewart Gardner’s favorite flower, in accordance with her custom, is kept besode her favorite painting- a somewhat effeminate Christ Carrying the Cross which she bought as a Giorgione despite Bernard Berenson’s advice: “unquestionably genuine… a sublime illustration rather than a great work of art… not the kind of think I think of for you. The picture still bears Giorgione’s name, an attribution with which expert Lionello Venturi agreed although Philip Hendy ascribed it to Palma Vecchio. However, an art gallery is not a barrel of apples, and a few disputed pictures do not spoil the many certified by Berenson which are precisely what they are represented to be.

---However, lacking distracting details or any indication of setting, this image focuses instead on the tear-streaked face of Christ, who stares out at us melancholically, as well as the knotty wood cross over which he casts a shadow. It is an intimate and intensely personal depiction of a suffering more emotional than physical. This type of dramatic close-up was perfected by Giovanni Bellini, who was influenced by devotional images derived from the work of Leonardo da Vinci. This work is in turn based on a composition by Bellini (recorded in a painting in the Toledo Art Museum), and was made by a close follower of the artist, perhaps Vincenzo Catena (ca. 1470–1531). When Isabella Stewart Gardner purchased the painting in 1896, it was attributed to Giorgione, who was also pupil of Bellini and documented as a colleague of Catena. Even at that time, Gardner was unsure about its authorship, although the painting’s strong quality and stirring piety led her to buy it. Bernard Berenson was frankly surprised that Gardner wanted such a strongly religious work. According to Morris Carter, the first director of the museum, the painting was Mrs. Gardner’s favorite, and she often placed a vase of violets in front of it, a tradition maintained by the museum.--- Read More:

Morris Carter, Gardner’s biographer, said “Love of art, not knowledge about art, was her aim.” All of Fenway Court is, as she intended, a mirror of her tastes and interests, and he added, ” Every detail speaks of the fun Mrs. Gardner had in doing it.” This in itself was a fresh approach to custodianship of great art in America in the early years of the twentieth-century. Belle personally supervised every detail of the construction from the day the ground was broken, when she found her first four-leaf clover. It is still preserved at Fenway in a crystal locket together with a relic of Saint Clare.

During the construction she engaged a Boston building inspector in pitched battle with the haughty announcement that ” It will be built as I wish and not as you wish.” It was too. Chauffeur-driven from Beacon Street daily, she brought her own lunch, contributed to the workmen’s fund for beverages, and worked as hard as anyone on the job. Her favorite foreman was an Italian trumpet player named Bolgi. With him she devised a system of alarms by which he sounded one toot on the trumpet for masons, two for steam fitters, three for plumbers, four for carpenters, etc.

---Certainly conservation concerns are legitimate enough to make even the most ardent, willingly compromise an ideal. But is it really reasonable to accept that this is what has happened at Isabella Stewart Gardner's Palace of Art? How was it and on what basis, that in March 2009, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that the proposed project to alter, disfigure and re-orient Fenway Court, was 'consistent with the primary intent of Isabella Stewart Gardner’s will and in the public interest'? How did Boston's celebrated Landmarks Commission review and approved the Museum’s plans for new construction under the Accelerated Design Review process from 2008 through 2011? Reflecting on all that Mrs. Gardner sought to accomplish, and all the intrusive self-aggrandizing alterations imposed here, I cannot believe the one thing that matters most when contemplating a drastic change to a work of art, would the artist, the benevolent but imperious and independent Isabella Stewart Gardener approve of the change? Mrs. Jack would not have. --- Read More:

“She almost literally supervised the laying of every brick.” To get a desired wall color, “she herself climbed the ladder, and dipping a sponge first in a pail of white paint and then of red, proceeded to splash it on.” She once telephoned her architect’s office that she had fired a plumber, adding that if another was not on the spot within the hour she’d get a new architect.

Before the opening night she even pretested the acoustics of her Music Room before a foolproof audience- children from the Perkins Institute for the Blind. They came on a rainy afternoon, stacked their rubbers neatly where they could be found at the concert’s end. An unthinking butler or footman scooped them all up from the hall and stacked them in the closet. The resulting confusion was something Belle remembered with horror for years afterwards. As an old lady she sometimes used to ask visitors to her collection anxiously: “Have you got your rubbers?”

---The style of Botticelli’s paintings from the last decade of his life, beginning with such works as the Tragedy of Lucretia, is dramatically different from that of his earliest career. The gentle calligraphy of his earlier drawing and the balletic grace of his figure types, derived from Filippo Lippi but perfected in his own unmistakable idiom, have given way to hard, almost engraved lines and crabbed, intensely over-wrought figures. The delicate veils of color that warmed the atmosphere and created a sense of open space as well as of surfaces and textures in paintings like the Chigi Madonna, have become adamantine blocks of bright, unmodulated tone, lending a cold clarity to a light that defines figures and architecture with somewhat inconsistent results. In part this change may be attributable to Botticelli's shift to the fashionable medium of oil paints, a shift he was never comfortable making, having been one of the century's greatest technicians in the use of tempera paints. Scholars have also seen in the stiffening of Botticelli’s late style proof of Vasari’s claim that the artist was physically debilitated at the end of his life---Read More:

By this time Mrs. Jack had become a living legend in Boston. The days when she, then Isabella Stewart, had been sent to Paris finishing school seemed as remote in time as a Zurbaran. At the Paris school she met Back Bay’s Julia Gardner; their fathers- two lonesome businessmen who were happy to be able to speak American to each other, also became friends.

Belle came to visit Julia in Boston, and her brother Jack, who was a former Harvard student, fell madly in love with the guest, an infatuation from which he never recovered. Neither did the rest of the sedate Gardner clan. When Julia came to New York to return the visit, Mr. Stewart took the girls to a minstrel show, sending word backstage that he hoped there would be no coarse jokes that evening because Miss gardner of Boston was in the house.

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