Thursday, December 06, 2007

Meaty, beefy, big and bouncy

Also big, burly, fleshy and butch.

From one wall piece to another, across a couple of centuries and seas. I spent the rest of the afternoon ogling the Baroque tapestries. Things get incendiary when Peter Paul Rubens enters the weave: the hangings come to life and the medium is altered. "The Battle of Veseris and the Death of Decius Mus" hits you like a whallop, all muscle and drama. Action in war, over-the-top musculature (17th century Chelsea boys, yeah!) flying manes, a perfect, dappled (equine, sorry) rump fore and center. Caught in mid-tumble, a horseman looks away; his steed rears among the carnage. Horrifying and thrilling and thrusting. Prior to this, the medium had been busy but somewhat stately (exception: Rafael for the Vatican). Rubens brought the full force of painting to tapestry and, in this exhibit, it howls.
The English were not to be left out. Charles I had a fine eye: "Perseus on Pegasus" evinces power and strength. Highlights are accented to the point of solarization. Then there's the Italians: the Medici favored a more naturalistic approach, augmented with a Cecil B. de Mille sensibility. Don't miss the cape of gluttonous splendor worn by Pope Clement VIII. Glittering with gold thread, it out-does Cher. (Room for altar boys, too.)
And then there is Gobelins. Louis XIV would not be denied, and this manufactury became synonymous with the apotheosis of the weavers' art. Stupendous works, allegorical and historical, astonishing even (especially?) to the modern eye. The colors are vibrant, the detail astounding; even the crustaceans in "Water" look extra-ugly. All is heightened (check out the seaweed-draped coral in that tapestry's border).
This room is overwhelming, and you will find yourself shuttling between it and the previous one (the Italians), wondering at the difference. This is glorious, unabashed excess, the epitome of the Baroque, and you will never see its like again.

"Tapestry in the Baroque: Threads of Splendor," at the Met
through Jan. 6, 2008

photos courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Top: "The Battle of Veseris and the Death of Decius Mus", bottom "The Battle of the Granicus"