Titian. The Pastoral Concert (c. 1509)
Written by FDAC Board Member Sharifa T. Lookman ’17
There are certain works in art history that one must be familiar with, from Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” to Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” And of course Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” When visiting the Louvre in Parisa few weeks ago, I actually got to see this work. Or rather I got to see other people photographing the Mona Lisa, a small panel barely visible behind reflecting glass. It was a phenomenon akin to my visit to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome where masses of people rushed to the front of Michelangelo’s Pieta, took a picture, and went on their way. An experience that deserves hours of contemplation was replaced by a thirty-second glimpse and, of course, the mandatory photo!
Once I elbowed my way through the throngs of people vying for a front row view of the lady in question, I found myself on the other side of the room, practically vacant in comparison to the space I had just left. And there, on the other side of Mona Lisa’s wall was Titian’s “Pastoral Concert,” a painting I had studied a year before. I was ashamed to have almost missed it, but it was clear that I was not the only one who had. Titian’s painting is modest in size and somewhat dwarfed by the larger surrounding paintings hung salon-style. The technical skill and compelling characters, however, demand attention. The painting suggests pastoral levity, with two seated figures engaged in music and poetry, surrounded by two muses. Though not the most exacting narrative, Titian’s brushwork and palette are unrivaled when viewed in person, and I spent hours looking and sketching.
The Louvre could not possibly be covered in such detail, even given months. The value and prestige of artwork is perpetuated by museum curating, and the viewership of such works is heavily influenced by fame and scholarship. I was struck by just how much artwork we miss in search of the next big work noted on our museum guide. I question when art viewership became less of an individual, subjective experience and tastes became altered by scholarly assertions of “good” and “bad” art.
Whether a canonical work or not, there is enormous value in experiencing, understanding and critiquing it based on one’s own terms. And I would suggest, as much as you might want to prove your proximity to some of the most famous works throughout history, to leave your camera at home. Instead, bring a sketchbook and a pencil, or, if you’re really gutsy, nothing at all. And don’t neglect the works we have made modest, hidden behind silent walls.