Monday, 28 March 2011

On Expensive Paintings as Metaphors of Themselves

Funny how very expensive paintings become metaphors of themselves. The 45-million-dollar Duccio bought by the Met in 2005 shows the incarnate deity supported with infinite care by his reverentially gazing mother, in prophecy of the object’s later veneration by acquisitive museum trustees. Similarly, Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks, picked up by the National Gallery in 2004 for a mere 35 million pounds, predicts its own historical afterlife as object of enraptured awe: the Madonna both supports and frames the child, holding it and owning it. Actaeon unveils the nude Diana at her bath, like a museum director pulling a curtain cord at a press conference, in a Titian bought by the National Gallery for roughly the GDP of Belgium in 2008. In all of these works, the looked-upon object of attention is, like a work of art, something between divine and physical, capable of redeeming (Christ) or cursing (Diana) the life of the observer. It’s all in the viewer’s use of what he or she beholds. Look how, in Duccio’s painting, Christ returns the touch, or how Diana’s body, the whole shebang, is stretched out for Actaeon’s grateful view. These paintings dramatize rapture at the sight of a beautiful thing.

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