Western Swing

Herzog & de Meuron
de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA

San Francisco is a city with charm; it’s a cultural oasis.  Our last time here,  we wanted to visit the de Young Museum but it was under construction.  Upon my return a few days ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the new building with its pointilist copper facade designed by the team of Herzog and de Meuron. About the only thing that remains of the previous incarnation of the de Young Museum are the old palm trees.  Now there is a large outdoor cafe with a giant bobby pin (pop sculpture) and indoors there was an opulent traveling exhibition of Venetian painting from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna as well as a historical overview of Anatolian Kilims.

On top of the educational tower is a ninth floor observatory with panoramic views of the city.  A wonderful place to stop and take in the scene.  People reach for their cameras and snap away, and I did too. You can see up the coast to the Golden Gate Bridge and beyond, when it is sunny and clear – not always possible on a point of land frequently fog-bound.

The lower level is entered by a long gently sloping staircase.
At the entrance to the  show of Venetian painting the gallery visitor finds mural size images of San Marco as well as photos from the Kunsthistorisches Museum.  Among the first paintings we encountered was a portrait of St. Sebastian by Mantegna.  This iconic painting was amazing in detail, and moving by way of the passion and pain it portrays.  Mantegna and Giotto were pivotal figures bringing perspective to spatial arrangement in two dimensional art, and the St. Sebastian portrays this new found structure.

 Andrea Mantegna, 1470
 St. Sebastian

Around the corner in the next gallery we come upon a trove of paintings by Titian, which are so sumptuous and mysterious at the same time.  I try to fathom the personalities portrayed, as Titian paints  in such a way as to reveal his subject’s very nature.  A great colorist, Titian follows in the footsteps of Giorgione who also has paintings on view in this exhibition.  Old favorites are here including Titian’s
“Danae” and the shower of gold, and another one of Titian’s last paintings which is much rougher in texture and darker in temperament.

Titian, circa 1575

We enjoyed Tintoretto, and Veronese also in this show.  Tintoretto’s Susanna ( and the elders) presages Manet, and the arrangement of bodies in space still seems so odd and staged to me.  The impression left from visiting this show is one of grand opera and drama, an archaic  and poetic realm full of human foibles and longings.

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