Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"The Drawings of Bronzino"; Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met's Bronzino show has a problem:  The best works in it are a couple of drawings by his mentor, Pontormo (see bottom right).

Bronzino had a problem:  He was not a natural draftsman.

His paintings are coolly luscious, like Ingres's, and show his mastery of how to paint different textures and surfaces.  His color juxtapositions are bold, his unnatural exaggeration of the human form sensual.  A major painter.

His drawings are in another category altogether.  Deliberate, dry, always struggling with the outline.  They will encourage the art student -- to see that even Bronzino would trace over and over the outline of a cheek or the earflap of a cap, or thicken the line in a struggle to get the shape right.  The result is drawings that lack artistic coherence or drama.

The drawings are boring, and so is this show.  Read the articles in the New York Times or the New Yorker (interesting, intelligent articles about Bronzino but with hardly a glance at what you actually see at the Met), and you might think that the show would teach you something about Bronzino or Mannerism.  Instead, you will learn what the study of art history used to be like -- trying to separate the hand of one artist from another, what Bernard Berenson concentrated on a century ago.

The show runs through April 18.