Oh, Hungarian! Szépművészeti Múzeum, you said a mouthful. In the first of 2 parts, as the king of the museum fags, I had to find at least one traditional museum to visit in Budapest. My first choice was the Magyar Iparművészeti Múzeum (The Hungarian Museum of Applied Arts), which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings in Budapest, including incredible Zsolnay tilework. Since Budapest has some reverberations being part of the Empire once, I have seen the MAK in Vienna, and will visit this one at a later time. Location and the chance of seeing lesser known El Grecos made the Fine Arts (Szépművészeti) museum the one to see that day.
Doménikos Theotokópoulos, or as we know him, El Greco, practiced largely in that wonderful Spanish city, Toledo after leaving his native Crete to train more in Venice, and later, Rome. Having spent an afternoon in that wonderful town and viewing*, but not photographing, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, it will not in the least open up why El Greco paints the way he does. It is true his work is closer to Tintoretto, with a bit of Roman mannerism and Carravagio’s light thrown in. But El Greco is his own satellite. And it is interesting to see how many wound up in this museum.
In The Disrobing of Christ, El Greco pulls every dramatic device he can. Some like the hand pointing in the right, and the nobleman staring with hand on hip, are lifts from other paintings. The light already shows a debt to Carravagio. What makes this one so interesting is the face of Christ, already in another place, and El Greco’s odd tactile values. The alizarin crimson shirt looks like a paper apron, they used to put on you in the barber shop, the hand inside the neck, ready to pull it off. Notice how masterly Christ’s neck is painted.
El Greco uses all kinds of devices, in Agony in the Garden (right), like the narrative Raphael was spinning, using a split effect on a horizontal, allowed the painting to be cut in half visually, and yet some uniformity kept. Raphael had done this several times, I pulled the Transfiguration because I remembered it from the Vatican. Note El Greco’s palette, it rarely changes. Stylistically his drawing goes wild with organic forms, generally fabric contortions, but his palette remains traditional and constrained.
El Greco’s Study of a Male Head St. James the Less
There is an incredible beauty to the way El Greco paints the male face. I don’t know if these faces are just “types” but there is always a certain kind of intelligence and character that appears with them. They are generally in their thirties and never aware of our observation of them. I was struck how beautifully the features, nose, ears, beard are painted in that 3/4 profile. The faces of the angel and the Madonna in his Annunciation seem almost comic bookish. Note again, the traditional sky, the crimson robe.
Wölfflin, I think, referred to this (right) as the Hungarian Madonna, years back, but I had never seen a copy of it. On the left above, it was identified as “Workshop of,” meaning it was done by assistants, perhaps a student copying only the style of drawings by Leonardo. On the far right is the 25 year old Raphael’s Esterházy Madonna, named after the Hungarian nobles who possessed it.
Stylistically, they are put together to show Raphael’s evolution (for laughs, check out the late Raphael in the Vatican Transfiguration, above). Raphael indepted to Leonardo, but Perugino, as well. The beauty of the spatial composition by Raphael is indebted to his Umbrian master.
Leonardo, giant though he was, never fully comprehended Renaissance perspective. Or perhaps, found the math too predictable. I know you will argue, The Last Supper, but in that instance, if you cut away the figures (and I have), you will find a Gothic grouping pasted upon a formal perspective study. Leonardo is always more at home using distance and atmosphere to define space. Here, a peculiarity for Leonardo, the little figures upon the road to the right of the Madonna’s left hand create far distance.
There is plenty of classical art here, a supposed self-portrait by Giorgione and a wonderful little Sebastiani del Piombo, the Venetian that Raphael began to study to beef up his palette.
For some confusion, both Bonifacio Veronese (above) and Paolo. No relationship, except they were both from Verona.
There is a Velazquez and his son-in-law. A lovely painting of the pretty little Hapsburg princess, Margarita Teresa in Las Meninas. She is the one and same in Las Meninas, the same one in the Kuntshistoriches in Vienna. And the same one who died at 21, in Vienna.
Peter Paul Rubens Briseis returning to Apollo
Perhaps the cow gives us a dubious look, for like us, who would have expected Adam to be a middle-aged nude burogomeister?!
The Germanic part of the collection is wonderful. They hold both Durer and Cranach, both master prolific and always interesting to see what they are up to. I must confess, I have only been to Germany in between planes. I cannot wait, but Vienna gave me a see/look at some beautiful German painting, which I was aware, but had never seen. Budapest holds masterpieces, I am not too sure everyone is aware of.
The more I see of Cranach, the better I like him. The subtle use of color, the beautiful tactile form are a pleasure to see. Here, it seems as both Madonna and Temptress are one and the same.
Lucas Cranach the Elder Ill-matched couples (both)
These goofy things pop up all over the place. Here, reverse couples!
This is the first of two parts.
*Spain is a wonderful country, but not always for viewing art. The Prado is annoying in their “no photo” policies. At least in Budapest and the Akademie der bildenden Künste in Vienna, they charged to shoot. It was extremely disappointing viewing the Count Orgaz.
**Thanks, Tibor Horvath, for catching wrong attribution, i rechecked notes.
Tags: Agnolo Bronzino Portrait of a Lady, Albrecht Dürer's Portrait of a Young Man, Albrecht Dürer's The Holy Virgin in Prayer, Christian Seybold's Self-Portrait, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez' Tavern Scene, El Greco's Agony in the Garden, El Greco's Annuciation, El Greco's Holy Family with St Anne, El Greco's Study of a Male Head St. James the Less, El Greco's The Disrobing of Christ, Frans Luycx' Portriat of a Man, Giorgione Self-Portrait of Giorgione, Godfried Libalt's Skulls, Hans Baldung The Sorrowful Madonna, Jacob Jordaens' Adam and Eve (The Fall of Man), Juan Batista Martínez del Mazo's Portrait of the Infanta Margarita Teresa, Kupezky's Artist and his Family, Lucas Cranach Ill-matched Couples, Lucas Cranach the Elder's Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, Lucas Cranach the Elder's The Virgin suckling the Child eft) and The Virgin suckling the Child, Moretto da Brescia' Portrait of a Man, Peter Paul Rubens' Briseis returning to Apollo, Raphael's Esterházy Madonna, Sebastiani del Piombo's A Young Girl, Szépművészeti Múzeum (The Museum of Fine Arts), Tibor Horvath, Workshop of Leonardo Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John, Workshop of Lorenzo Ghiberti Madonna and Child