Tuesday, March 20, 2007

An afternoon at the Norton Simon Museum

Vacation day two…

I just struggled to get up this morning. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t have a real plan for the day or that I was just tired from yesterday, but today got off to a slow start. I did get a bit of work in as promised, but I also wanted to take in at least one local attraction. I decided that the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena would be a good place to start.

I have to admit that I’m not a huge museum buff, especially by myself, but I decided to be open to new things and this would be a good test. This place was totally fascinating and well worth the 3 ½ hours spent exploring the various galleries.

While they don’t have a reciprocal agreement with my Chicago Art Institute membership, as a student, I got in for free, which was a welcome offer. At the end of my visit, I am convinced that it would have been worth every penny of the regular $8 adult admission.

The Norton Simon museum is widely regarded as one of the world's greatest private art collections and spans more than 2,000 years. As I only focused on the upper floor of the museum, much of what I saw ranged from the 14th through the 20th century. Some of it I didn’t understand at all, but fortunately many pieces feature brief descriptions beyond the name, date and artist. They give you insight into the image, the background on the subject or details about the artist at the time he created the piece.

The most engaging images for me personally were several portraits that were startlingly real. The often seemed to jump off the canvas and I was awestruck by the amount of patience these men and women had in the creation of their masterpieces (and I assure you, each is a masterpiece).

Among those really stood out for me were the School of Caravaggio’s “A Geographer”

“Portrait of a Young Man” by Dutch painter Frans Hal.

Dutch painter Jan van Bijlert’s “Man in Armor Holding a Pike”.

and finally “St. Joseph and the Infant Christ” by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, a 17th Century Italian painter. While the first three paintings are cool because of the realism, this last one of St. Joseph and the Infant Christ is cool on a couple of different levels. First I’d never seen an image like this. Usually when you see the Infant Christ, he’s with the Madonna. This image has a warmth and humanity that I think made it more real than similar images with the Madonna. It’s an especially moving image, one that will stand out in my mind for a long time.

There is so much more to write about my visit to the Norton Simon Museum today, but it will have to wait until later. If you are in Southern California I encourage you to visit this world class museum in Pasadena. You will not be disappointed.

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