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A Tale of Two Tassels - Raphael and Holbein in The National Gallery, London

March 3, 2017

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Visiting The Alte Pinakothek - Munich, Germany

 This is one of the oldest museums in the world and is home to a fantastic collection of Old Master paintings by Durer, Rubens, Van Dyck, Raphael, Leonardo Da Vinci, and others. There are fantastic self portraits by Dürer, Rembrandt and Anthony Van Dyck among many other masterpieces and preparatory oil sketches.

 

The collection is large but impressive. There's not a lot of "filler stuff" because there weren't many generations of collectors, prior to establishing it as a museum owned by the State. There's lots of A-list work by A-list artists. Key for me was Durer’s self "portrait as the Man of Sorrows” painted when he was 28 years old and at the height of his formidable powers. 

 

I’ve now seen all 3 of Albrecht’s major, stand-alone self portrait paintings (the others are at The Louvre and The Prado) and this was by far the most impressive. It’s also chronologically the last of the three. At 22, 26 and 28 he paints himself as regally and impressively as he knows how, and each one is more impressive than the last. Watching him progress makes me feel pretty good about my own abilities because it proves that he, like the rest of us, wasn’t "hatched whole from the mind of Zeus" and did get better with time… it’s just that he’d fully crystalized; finished growing; well before aged 30. 

At 22 (the self portrait at The Louvre) he’s painting himself in a very Germanic way. At 26 he’d made his first pilgrimage over the Alps to Italy, lived there for a couple of years, and was therefore painting with all the sensitivity and atmosphere you’d expect of an Italian follower of Da Vinci while using the sumptuous color palette of a Venetian (he lived in Venice while he studied in Italy).

 

 

At 28, when he paints this image of himself, he’s back in Germany and has fluidly merged his early Germanic style with an unmistakable Italian Renaissance influence to create something completely new… the matrix for the High Northern Renaissance. There is an almost spiritual warmth and intensity emanating from the final portrait. When you look at it, it looks back at you. He has managed alchemy with oil and pigment, imbuing the image with a bit of his own soul and intensity. A remarkable feat that still holds up 500 years later. I highly recommend spending a few minutes with this painting, in person, if you can. It’s not just that you see Durer… it’s that you see Durer seeing Durer. Presenting himself to himself. Fantastic!

 

 

The museum itself was, unfortunately, under (partial) reconstruction while we were there so I didn’t get a chance to see it all. Fortunately for us they’d re-arranged the exhibitions to feature all the “major masterpieces” and we managed to glimpse around 80% of what we’d have seen otherwise. I think we missed their French collections (which are supposed to be pretty spectacular) but honestly if I have to miss just one… I’m glad it was French neoclassicism and not renaissance Italy, the Baroque, the Flemish holdings or their Northern renaissance and Durer collection. Actually now that I think about it… we didn’t see any Spanish painters either.

 

They have some particularly nice examples of oil sketches by Rubens. I've seen dozens of them at various museums but these were among the nicest and purest examples. Also a snazzy self portrait by Anthony Van Dyck clearly recognizable as an immediate predecessor of the more formal full-length one at The Met. 

 

 

 

The Alte Pinakothek is going to celebrate it’s 200th birthday in about 10 years. Which is a big deal. Most museums didn’t pop up until the late 19th century (or even early 20th century). And when they did, chances are they looked a lot like this one… this museum was so famous and so “modern” as one of the first public museums that MANY, many, museums were either directly or indirectly based on it’s layout and approach.  From Washington DC to St. Petersburg  you can see the influence of the Alte Pinakothek from a block away. If you’re into Old Master art – give this museum a spin!

 

 

 

 

 

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