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Titian & Ledray on display

Submitted by MBergeron on May 22, 2024 – 11:14 pmNo Comment

When introducing the Titian paintings of the goddess Diane Museum of Fine Arts, Houston curator Edgar Bowron points out that the famed Venetian artist (Tiziano Vecellio 1486-1576) is arguably more influential that many of his contemporaries yet his name does not grace the members of the Mutant Teenage Ninja Turtles (Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, and Leonardo).

Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting: Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Scotland will be on display at the MFAH until August 14. This marks the first time any of Titian’s Diane paintings have toured the States. The exhibit includes 13 paintings representing the best of Venetian 16th century art. A second gallery features a dozen drawings, most of them studies of larger prominent works. Two of Titian’s paintings, Diane and Actaeon and Diane and Callisto, the centerpiece of the show are valued at $50-million each.

Also particularly stunning is Titian’s Venus Anadyomene, and a painting by Paolo Veronese titled Mars, Venus and Cupid that has its erotic nature tilted by a humorous tableau that suggest Cupid is being dry humped by the family dog. Jacopo Bassano’s The Adoration of the Kings pops forth with such bright colors that even across the gallery it looks like a giant high-def television screen. Venetian art was not etched with prudence in mind and these paintings reflect mature thematic concerns. One piece shows a prostitute putting on make-up with one of her attendant ladies sporting unique tattoos on her lower lip and upper face. Another work depicts a saintly woman who was tortured and had her breasts cut off. The painting has an eerie quality since the subject appears to be smiling in a tantalizing manner while holding her breasts on a silver plate.

The paintings on display form part of the Bridgewater collection. Titian was commissioned by Philip II of Spain to produce original art and he chose the Diane series. The history of the paintings’ ownership is interesting in their own right.

Bowron remarks how Ovid’s Metamorphoses inspired the subjects of these paintings. Standing in front of these two paintings there can be no doubt that they are undisputed classics. Even then, Bowron points to something he’s never noticed until now. In both Diane and Actaeon and Diane and Callisto we see Actaeon’s dog, in the first painting happy to be with his owner and in the latter slouched over to the right corner, unhappy and missing his master.

The MFAH also hosts an exhibit by Charles Ledray titled workworkworkworkwork (that’s five “works” in a row) on display until September 11. Ledray has spent his life creating miniatures that represent everyday items. In fact these hats, clothes, bowls, vases and more suggest the world’s largest assemblage of tchotchkes. There are over 6000 items in this collection and the most amazing thing is that Ledray hand made each and every piece. The use of the expansive first floor space in the museum’s Law Building only serves to emphasize the size of Ledray’s objects. Whether it’s a Red Adair red cap that Ledray hand sewed or intricate items carved out of bone that seem to require the vision of an eagle and the steadiness of a boulder, the effect always overwhelms.

Most astonishing is a tiny room filled with what appears to be the contents of a clothing store. Not only did Ledray construct each item of clothing, each hanger or each ladder, according to the tour notes he specifically placed dust balls on top of the sets and also used pencil shavings to mimic dead bugs in the fluorescent ceiling lamps. Looking straight into this set one gets lost in the exactitude of the design. Only when you see other people towering over the small set design does the actual scale become a reality.

- Michael Bergeron

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