January 9, 2011

Art review: Look, discuss, lose yourself in 'Masterpieces' at Bowdoin


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Valerio Castello’s “The Legend of Saint Genevieve of Brabant,” circa 1652.

Images courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Conn. The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund

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Gaspare Traversi’s “The Quarrel,” circa 1752.

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WHERE: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 9400 College Station, Brunswick

WHEN: Long-term installation (closing not yet scheduled)

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday

COST: Free

INFO: 725-3275; www.bowdoin.edu/art-museum

While Orsi's Christ looks directly at Mary Magdelene, she seems to be gazing past him to empty space, where some young trees had been cut away. The theological implication is huge (and possibly heretical): Christ is a vision -- not physically present.

My favorite thing about "Masterpieces" involves a pair of paintings circa 1750. One, by Gaspare Traversi of Napoli, depicts a quarrel between two young men erupting into violence in an Italian tavern. The other is a stiffly wooden portrait of Bowdoin College founder James Bowdoin by Robert Feke. Bowdoin and the quarrelers, ostensibly worlds apart, are wearing the exact same fashions.

Feke handles Bowdoin's satin waistcoat well, but the rest is sheer provincial primitivism when compared to Traversi's voluptuously raucous flamboyance: Tables are flying, weapons are being drawn and women grasp at the men pleadingly -- all gorgeously painted. James Bowdoin is hanging directly across the room, giving his handsome but staid eyes plenty to look at.

"Masterpiece" is a lofty term that inevitably raises some eyebrows, but I think these 10 pieces selected by museum director Kevin Salatino make the grade. It's a great show for seeing and discussing with a friend or just losing yourself for a couple of hours of Arcadian bliss. 

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:



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usepe de Ribera’s “A Philosopher (possibly Protagoras),” 1637.


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