Monday, February 14, 2011
Museum of Biblical Art's "Passion in Venice": Great Art in Curatorial Purgatory
A bit of background: "Passion in Venice" examines representations of the Man of Sorrows, an image concept that depicts Christ, wounds visible, after the Crucifixion. It originated in Byzantine art and appeared in Italy sometime after the Fourth Crusade went wrong with the Sack of Constantinople in 1204.
The image lacks a narrative basis, and initially depicted a half-length Christ at the sepulcher. In the West it developed both as a devotional image, showing instruments of the Passion, for example, or Christ accompanied by angels, and as a liturgical image, emphasizing Christ's wounds in reference to the Eucharist. It also underwent some particularly Western iconographic changes, such as incorporating St. Gregory's vision of Christ or St. Francis' identification with Christ.
It's sort of a mess. With French, German, Spanish, Flemish, and Bohemian works interspersed, in addition to Italian works from places artistically distinct from Venice -- such as Florence and Naples -- the Venice part of "Passion in Venice" gets lost, and it's not really replaced by a consistent curatorial concept.
Some of the labeling is just preachy. If MoBIA wants to be taken seriously as a museum rather than as an adjunct of the American Bible Society, it's got to dump explanations about "universal culpability" and a "universal everyman."
But see "Passion in Venice" to see the art, which has been loaned from major institutions like the National Gallery of London, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and, here in New York, the Met and the Morgan. Although the show disappoints, the art doesn't.
"Passion in Venice: Crivelli to Tintoretto and Veronese," Museum of Biblical Art, Broadway and 61st Street. Through June 12.