For what it matters….

December 2nd, 2014

After trotting thousands of miles around the hemisphere during the restoration of the Mauritshuis, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring thought her performance would come to an end when she got home.

How wrong she was.

winner-02

If I have translated the Dutch news dispatch correctly, the Mauritshuis staged a competition inspired by the Japanese Vermeer enthusiast Shin Ichi Fukuoka which called on other Vermeer enthusiasts to submit a photograph of their own living rooms that includes a reproduction of the iconic Girl with a Pearl Earring on one of its walls. The winner, so to speak, would have his or her living room reassembled on the premises of the Mauritshuis with the iconic picture incorporated in the manner of photo stand-ins (once called carnival cutouts) that are present in every zoo, children’s museum and theme park in America. The lucky winner was recently announced on Mauritshuis Facebook page, and she is Elsa Oudshoorn.

Although I can’t quite grasp the sense of the Mauritshuis’ initiative, it would appear to be distantly related to the “win-an-evening-with-your-favorite-movie-star” competition of days gone bye. I have no idea what it would be like to sit in a reconstruction of my living room with a real Vermeer peeping through a hole, but I can imagine how foolish one might feel to have won the other type competition and be sitting at a dining table across from a Hollywood starlet only to discover that she would rather be anywhere in the world except face to face with one her fans.

photostandin-01

Those who read this blog regularly will have understood that my own enthusiasm for Vermeer’s art stops more or less at building the Essential Vermeer, reporting “Vermeer news” and looking at Vermeer’s real pictures when life permits. And they will also have intuited that I do not subscribe to the “anything-that-draws-people-to-art-is-good” philosophy (see here, here and here). On the contrary.

So, my only hope is that I got the Mauritshuis story wrong or that Vermeer was a very fun-loving man who wouldn’t have minded having his head (or the head of one of his pictures) stuck in the hole of a photo stand-in of a funny green dinosaur or an Old West jail.

New Vermeer-Related Publication

August 1st, 2014

Holland’s Golden Age in America: Collecting the Art of Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals
by Esmée Quodbach
ed. New York (The Frick Collection) and University Park (The Pennsylvania State University Press) 2014

from the Pennsylvania State University Press website:
Americans have long had a taste for the art and culture of Holland’s Golden Age. As a result, the United States can boast extraordinary holdings of Dutch paintings. Celebrated masters such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, and Frans Hals are exceptionally well represented, but many fine paintings by their contemporaries can be found as well. In this groundbreaking volume, fourteen noted American and Dutch scholars examine the allure of seventeenth-century Dutch painting to Americans over the past centuries. The authors of Holland’s Golden Age in America explain in lively detail why and how American collectors as well as museums turned to the Dutch masters to enrich their collections. They examine the role played by Dutch settlers in colonial America and their descendants, the evolution of American appreciation of the Dutch school, the circumstances that led to the Dutch school swiftly becoming one of the most coveted national schools of painting, and, finally, the market for Dutch pictures today. Richly illustrated, this volume is an invaluable contribution to the scholarship on the collecting history of Dutch art in America, and it is certain to inspire further research.

In addition to the editor, the contributors are Ronni Baer, Quentin Buvelot, Lloyd DeWitt, Peter Hecht, Lance Humphries, Walter Liedtke, Louisa Wood Ruby, Catherine B. Scallen, Annette Stott, Peter C. Sutton, Dennis P. Weller, Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., and Anne T. Woollett.

This book provides answers for anyone who has ever wondered why there are so many great Dutch paintings in U.S. collections. Essays by leading curators and scholars draw on the history of art, as well as an understanding of cultural, economic, and political conditions, to illuminate the American taste for seventeenth-century Dutch painting.
Emilie Gordenker, Director, Mauritshuis, The Hague

Drawing on the experience and insights of many of her colleagues in museums and the academy, Esmée Quodbach brings us an impressively broad overview of the early collectors of Dutch art in America. This essential volume provides illuminating context for major figures such as J. P. Morgan and welcomes unsung heroes such as Robert Gilmor, Jr., onto this stage, but also lifts the curtain on early colonial as well as contemporary collections. These varied accounts are spiked with color, drama, and highlights, including the story of the wealthy collector who has to ask, “Who is Vermeer?”
David de Witt, Bader Curator of European Art, Queen’s University

Esmée Quodbach is Assistant Director of the Center for the History of Collecting at The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library in New York.

http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-06201-3.html

Saint Praxedis sold for $10,687,160

July 9th, 2014

praxedis-03

The London-based auction house Christie’s reported via a Twitter feed that the Saint Praxedis (101.6 x 82.6 cm.) was sold on Tuesday, July 8 for $10,687,160 (£6,242,500). This figure barely higher that than the auction house’s lowest estimate of $10,284,000 but considerably lower than the upper estimate of $13,712,000. The painting was sold after a few bids to an Asiatic client. The painting was sold after a few bids to an Asiatic client.

At the moment, the low price paid for the Saint Praxedis suggests that the results of the scientific analysis were less than convincing and that it was bought in hopes that future critical or scientific investigations will strengthened its attribution.

In 2004, Sotheby’s sold the miniscule Woman Seated at the Virginals for $42 million (£16.2 million) a price five times greater than the auction house’s initial estimate. Previous to the two sales, the authorship of both works had been for debated for decades. On occasion of the sales the picture were proposed as authentic Vermeer’s largely the basis of scientific analysis spearheaded, in both cases, by the respective auction houses.

Before the painting was sold, Christie’s reported that after having examined the picture the conservator Libby Sheldon said that although no firm conclusion about the exact date of the picture’s Vermeer signature could be reached, she believed that it is nonethless “old.” In 1998 , Jørgen Wadum, then the chief curator of the Mauritshuis, stated that the signature had been added after the painting had been completed. Tests carried out by the Rijksmuseum show that the lead component of the lead white pigment extracted from the picture derives from a northern European source making it improbable that the picture was painted in southern Europe, as some critics had speculated. In addition, Christie’s claims that the lead white used to paint the Saint Praxedis is from the same “batch” used to painted the Diana and her Companions, a secure work by Vermeer.

However, since the results of these tests have not been published, for the moment it is not clear what meant by the term “batch.” Many pigments used by artists, including white lead, were already being produced on a large scale with the products being delivered to the retail dealers. There exists no evidence that that might indicate if Vermeer prepared his own paints or bought them through one or other commercial venues.

Unwrapping a Vermeer

June 28th, 2014

Tim’s Vermeer…from a painter’s point of view

June 21st, 2014

After I posted various reports about the documentary film Tim’s Vermeer, a few readers encouraged me to give a scholarly assessment of Jenison’s claim that Vermeer had used an optical device called a comparator mirror as an aid to his painting. Given my limited knowledge of the use of optics in seventeenth-century painting, I found it more appropriate to examine the issue from a technical viewpoint, since I am by profession a painter. The fact that I have studied Vermeer’s painting technique and attempted to emulate his manner for over 40 years, I hope, might give me a discreet edge over non-painters in evaluating if Jenison’s device is or is not compatible with what we know of Vermeer’s pictorial strategy and technical procedures.

Following some lively discussions with Mr. Jenison on the finer points of Vermeer’s painting procedures, I was able to meet him in Texas and experiment with the comparator mirror on the premises of a full-scale mockup of scene of Vermeer’s Music Lesson which Jenison had built in order to test his hypothesis by paintings his own Vermeer.

My first attempt to use the comparator mirror was frustrating. Not only was I unable to produce acceptable pencil outlines of a black and white photograph with which Jenison had used in his first experiments, I was utterly incapable of matching on paper any of the photograph’s tonal values. To use the comparator, at least as I was attempting to use it at the moment, one is constrained to work within an extremely small area of the drawing, along a thin edge where the image of the comparator mirror abuts on the drawing below and the two can be compared. Initially I found this procedure mentally and visually stressing, and at odds with my experience in conceiving and making paintings.

With a little more practice I was able to produce a few acceptable contours, even though they lacked any sort of artistic quality. However, seeing that I am not particularly skilled with a pencil, I though it best to test the device with paint and brush with which I have greater familiarity, even though on first consideration the oil painting technique seemed even more at odds with the mirror’s limitations than with dry drawing.

Surprisingly, I made rapid progress with the oil medium. Although with a certain fatigue, I learned to define first simple and then complex contours with a fine-tipped brush and began, even more surprisingly, to marvel at how it was possible to match with utmost precision both the chromatic and tonal values of my painting with those of the mirror in a completely objective manner.

Having made substantial progress in coordinating mind, eye, brush and mirror after a few painting sessions, I started afresh and began to depict a small portion of Jenison’s Vermeer mockup Vermeer room following what I have come to understand of Vermeer’s multi-step painting technique. Beginning with a schematic line drawing which served to fixed the most salient contours of the scene, I first underpainted the lights and darks with monochrome brown (raw umber plus black) and white paints without, however, systematically consulting the comparator mirror. I was, in fact, interested in testing how close I could get to the correct values on my own.

Once the underpainting was thoroughly dry, I began to apply the final colors over it using thick opaque paint in the lights and thinner paint in the shadows, according to seventeenth-century prescription. In order to render a given passage I first mixed, as all painters do, the proper paints on the palette attempting to match them as closely as possible to the color and tonal value combining what I perceived in nature with I had learned through practice. I then applied the mixture to the canvas and compared the values of my paint to those of the corresponding passage in the mirror. I sometimes discovered that both the color and tone of my mixture were very close to those seen in the mirror, but just as often I was struck by how poorly I had interpreted nature notwithstanding my decades of experience. In a back and forth manner I was able to register the erred values of my work with those of the mirror and return to painting. Once the proper values were firmly in place, I freehanded most of the modelling as I would have done without using an optical aid, taking care to verify the accuracy of my progress via the comparator mirror at regular intervals. The comparator mirror was also of help in verifying difficult contours and defining the smallest details that I had been unable to capture by freehand.

In any case, once I had registered the values of my painting with those of the mirror, the passage appeared much more true to life (painters simply say “right”).

Although the set of mirrors and lens (Jenison’s used a double convex lens of the camera obscura in coordination with a concave mirror and a comparator mirror) requires periodic adjustments in order to view the different areas of the scene, this does not unduly interrupt the painting process once one has acquired the necessary skill maneuver them.

Conclusion

Given Jenison’s complete lack of painting experience, he painted his Vermeer employing the comparator mirror, as would be expected, in the most literal of manners. He painstakingly matched what he saw in the mirror with paint applied directly, alla prima, forgoing any sort of layering techniques that we know Vermeer and his more accomplished colleagues sometimes employed. This aspect of Jenison’s approach provoked considerable criticism, including my own. It was reasoned that Vermeer could not have used the comparator mirror because Jenison’s essentially paint-by-numbers technique, and the consequential one-layer paint structure gotten by such an approach, is completely at odds with the multi-layered structure of Vermeer’s paintings.

According to my experience the comparator mirror neither dictates nor limits the painter to any fixed procedure or techniques, including those used by Vermeer. Certainly, it would interfere no more with the creative painting process than a systematic use of the camera obscura.

If it is used in a “painterly” manner, as any experienced painter would be naturally inclined to do, the comparator mirror opens the possibility to study color more precisely than can be done with the camera obscura alone and allows the artist to match with remarkable efficacy the illusive tonal values of nature, which in effect are crucial to Vermeer’s unique brand of realism. Furthermore, I discovered that the erred tonal values of my monochrome underpainting did not compromise the rendering of the proper tones and colors of the final paint layers. The aim of seventeenth-century underpainting, as I understand it, was not to establish the precise tonal values of the final work from the very beginning, but rather to approximate the distribution of darks and lights thereby creating a sort of compositional blueprint which provided a solid base on to which the successive layers of colored paint could be applied in a more efficient manner. Although I used the glazing technique in only one passage (red madder over an underpainting of vermillion), it was evident that with some practice it would be relatively easy for any practiced painter to anticipate the tonal and chromatic values of the colored underpainting so they might eventually match those made visible in the mirror once the passage had been glazed with the final color.

The use of such a simple device as the comparator mirror in tandem with the camera obscura lens, in my opinion, is technically compatible with Vermeer’s known painting techniques (to be distinguished from his “pointillist” mannerism), and it is in line with what Lawrence Gowing appropriately called the artist’s “optical way” as well as the artist’s search for absolute tonal authenticity.

Mauritshuis reopens on June 27, 2014

June 17th, 2014

View of Delft, Johannes Vermeer

Mauritshuis Opening on 27 June 2014

The Mauritshuis will open its doors on Friday 27 June 2014 after a two-year renovation.

The world famous painting collection, including three paintings by Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The View of Delft and Diana and her Companions, will once again be displayed in the fully renovated and expanded Mauritshuis. After a celebratory opening, the museum will be open to the public for visit free of charge until midnight. The renovated Mauritshuis doubles its surface with an underground expansion into a building on the other side of the street. Still, little about the character of the museum will change. The appearance and unique homely atmosphere are preserved, thanks to the design of Hans van Heeswijk architects. The most obvious change is the relocation of the main entrance to the forecourt. Visitors will descend via the stairs or lift to a light foyer, connecting ‘old’ and ‘new’ underground. The new part, the Royal Dutch Shell Wing, will house the exhibition space, the brasserie and the museum shop. Furthermore, it will accommodate the educational Art Workshop, a library, and event rooms.

The museum has also rennovated its website and has added new high-resolution image is their Vermeer’s paintings which can be veiwed with a zoom feature or downloaded to one’s hard disk. The downloadable images are lower resolution than the zoom versions.

zoom features:
Girl with a Pearl Earring
View of Delft
Diana and her Compantions

downloads
:
Girl with a Pearl Earring
View of Delft
Diana and her Compantions

Mauritshuis
Korte Vijverberg 8
2513 AB The Hague
P.O. Box 536
2501 CM The Hague

Young Woman Seated at the Virginals exhibition at Philadelphia Museum of Art extended to September 30

June 17th, 2014

Vermeer’s Young Woman Seated at the Virginals
Philadelphia Museuym of Art
October 26, 2013 – September 30, 2014

from the museum website:
Vermeer’s Young Woman Seated at the Virginals will be joined by two additional loans from the Leiden Collection: Frans Hals’s Portrait of Samuel Ampzing and The Coat of Many Colors attributed to Rembrandt’s pupil Gerbrand van den Eeckhout. All three paintings are on view in the galleries of European art 1500–1850 on the second floor, in the company of a selection of the Museum’s own paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. The Museum possesses more than three hundred seventeenth-century Dutch paintings, the largest collection of its kind in North America.

For further in formation, click here.

exhibition curator:
Christopher Atkins, Associate Curator of European Painting & Sculpture

Another New Vermeer?

June 9th, 2014
Saint Praxedis, Vermeer (?)
A copy (left) of the Saint Praxedis (right) by Felice Ficherelli hung together in Rome, 2012

On June 6, Christie’s announced that it was declaring the Saint Praxedis a Vermeer. According to Henry Pettifer, the head of Old Master paintings at Christie’s, after isotope analysis tests carried out by scientists at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and Free University, it was found that the lead-white of the painting was a precise match for that used in another early Vermeer, Diana and her Companions— “So precise as to suggest that the same batch of paint could have been used.” He stated that the research, including an analysis of the date and signature on the painting, amounted to “a compelling endorsement” of Vermeer’s authorship. In the event that the painting is accepted by art scholars as an authentic Vermeer, it will become the second once-doubted painting in ten years to be accepted into the painter’s thin oeuvre largely on the basis of technical analysis.

The auction house excepts the work could fetch about $13 million when it is auction in early July. The work is part of the collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson, a Polish-born art-lover who amassed a huge trove of art after marrying Johnson & Johnson heir J. Seward Johnson. Piasecka died last year.

Auction
Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale
Christie’s
8 King Street, St. James’s, London
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
at 6:00 pm

viewings:
Saturday, July 5 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Sunday, July 6 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Monday, July 7 9:00 am -4:30 pm
Yuesday, July 8 9:00 am – 3:30 pm

Click here to access the Christie’s PDF online catalogue entry for the Saint Praxedis which contains further art historical and technical information.

The Painting

The painting is believed to be a copy of a work by Felice Ficherelli (1605 – 1669 ?) from about 1640–45, now in the Collection Fergmani in Ferrara. It represents the early Roman martyr, Saint Praxedis or Praxedes, who squeezes a martyr’s blood from a sponge into an ornate vessel. The most obvious difference between the copy and the original is that there is no crucifix in the Ferrara work.

Critical Fortunes

The painting’s provenance before the mid-twentieth century is unknown. The collector Jacob Reder bought it at a minor auction house in New York in 1943. The painting was first publically viewed in 1969 when it was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a work by Felice Ficherelli in the exhibition Florentine Baroque Art from American Collections, no. 39. Vermeer’s signature in the lower left was noted in the catalogue after it had been examined by Ted Rousseau and members of the conservation department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After the work appeared in New York exhibition, it was first published (1969) as a Vermeer by Michael Kitson, an art historian with the University of London. Kitson believed the signature was integral with the paint surface and “the form of the signature corresponds exactly to those on Vermeer’s early works, particularly the Maid Asleep.” Kitson likened the Saint Praxedis copy to Vermeer’s Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, for its “breadth of form and handling and a similar gravity (though not sickness) of mood.”*

In 1986, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. enthusiastically embraced the work as an authentic Vermeer** the citing the stylistic and technical similarities with the two early Vermeers and the essentially Dutch character of the modeling of Saint Praxedis’ face, which he compared to the down turned head of Vermeer’s a Maid Asleep. Wheelock noted two signatures. One, at the lower left was the name “Meer ”and the date “1655.” On the suggestion of Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, Wheelock advanced that the other inscription contained the word “Meer,” followed by the letter “N,” the letter “R,” then two lower case “o’s.” Wheelock holds that both the signatures and the date are integral to the paint surface and that the second could be interpreted as: “[Ver]Meer N[aar] R[ip] o [s] o” or “Vermeer after Riposo,” Ficherelli’s Italian nickname (Repose).

However, on the occasion of the 1994-1995 Vermeer Washington/The Hague exhibition where the work was shown by Wheelock as the earliest known painting by Vermeer, its authenticity was seriously contested by a number of art historians and conservators. Jørgen Wadum, then the chief curator of the Mauritshuis, firmly stated that the “Meer 1655” inscription had been added after the painting had been completed. Contrary to Wheelock, he believed the brushwork of Saint Praxedis had nothing to do with the brushwork of either the Diana and her Companions or the Christ in the House of Mary and Martha. He also noted that no smalt smalt, a dull blue pigment which is now obsolete, had been detected in the Saint Praxedis while both the Christ in the House of Mary and Martha and the Diana and her Companions had significant amounts of smalt.

When Saint Praxedis was examined by Marten Jan Bok, a specialist on the 17th-century Utrecht painter Johannes van der Meer, he was unable even to see the second inscription, and in any case, he wrote “nowhere in 17th-century Dutch painting will you find such an inscription on a copied painting.”

Ben Broos found that Wheelock’s interpretation of the signature as “Meer naar Riposo” was “wishful thinking” at best. “In my opinion, Saint Praxedis is the latest wrongly attributed Vermeer of the caliber of Van der Laan and Vrel.” Other experts such as Albert Blankert, Gregor J. M. Weber, and the National Gallery in London’s Christopher Brown have arrived at similar conclusions.

In 2002,  Jon Boone wrote, “In looking at Saint Praxedis one does have a hard time understanding its attribution to Vermeer. It is a second-rate copy of a mediocre painting by an undistinguished artist, with certain features—such as the awkward wrap-around hands—antithetical to Vermeer’s sensibility as well as his draftsmanship. While the face itself is beautiful, certainly more charming than that of the original, it is still a facsimile face, a close copy of the source.” And further: “The Saint Praxedis attribution is severely strained, failing the standard of Ockham’s razor: The simplest explanation covering all the facts of the case is that the painting is a copy executed either by the original painter, Ficherelli, in Florence, or by another artist in Ficherelli’s circle.”***

In fact, there is no evidence that Vermeer had ever visited Italy or that the Ficherelli’s original, or an eventual copy, had ever traveled outside the country.

Ivan Gaskell had written earlier “that as a result of, first, examining the painting while exhibited in Washington (scarcely optimal conditions) in conjunction with Vermeer’s two early history paintings, secondly, of discussing the work with specialist colleagues, and, thirdly, reviewing the published arguments, I feel unable to accept an unqualified attribution of Saint Praxedis to Vermeer.”

In his 2008 complete catalogue of Vermeer’s painting, Walter Liedtke does not even mention the Saint Praxedis, while in 2009 he wrote “the repetition is probably by the Florentine painter [Fichherelli] himself.”****

* KITSON, Michael. “Florentine Baroque Art in New York.” Burlington Magazine, Vol. 111, No. 795 (Jun., 1969). 409-410.

** WHEELOCK, Arthur K. Jr. “‘St. Praxedis’: New Light on the Early Career of Vermeer.” Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 7, No. 14 (1986). 71-89.

*** BOONE, Jon. “Saint Praxedis: Missing the Mark.” In Essential Vermeer. 2002 <http://www.essentialvermeer.com/saint_praxedis.html>

**** LIEDTKE, Walter: Vermeer: The Milkmaid. The Metorpolitan Museum of Art, New York. 2009. note 5, 23.

Vermeer-related lecture

March 30th, 2014

Silence in the Studio: Vermeer and Terborch
by Mariët Westermann
Washington College, Chestertown MD
Hotchkiss Recital Hall, Gibson Center for the Arts – Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 5 p.m.

from the Washington College website:
Celebrated art historian Mariët Westermann, vice president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will explore the technical innovations by Dutch painters of the Golden Age such as Vermeer and Gerard Terborch in a lecture entitled “Silence in the Studio: Vermeer and Terborch.”. The lecture will be given on the occasion of the 11th annual Janson-La Palme Distinguished Lecture in European Art History at Washington College on Wednesday, April 9. The talk will begin at 5 p.m. in Hotchkiss Recital Hall, Gibson Center for the Arts, on the college campus.

A native of Holland, Westermann graduated magna cum laude from Williams College with a degree in history. She later completed her master’s degree and Ph.D. in art history at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts and has written extensively on Dutch painting and Vermeer. Westermann is the author of several acclaimed books, including A Worldly Art: The Dutch Republic 1585-1718 (ranked a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times); The Amusements of Jan Steen: Comic Painting in the 17th Century; Rembrandt: Art and Ideas; and Anthropologies of Art. She also authored Johannes Vermeer 1632-1675 for the Rijksmuseum Dossiers series and served as guest curator of “Art and Home: Dutch Interiors in the Age of Rembrandt” at the Newark Museum and Denver Art Museum

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Click here for Washington College event page.

Italians divided (as usual) by art exhibition

March 9th, 2014
Girl with a pearl Earring exhibition in Bologna, Italy

The arrival of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring in Bologna lends a hand to divide the already historically divided Italians. Alberto Mattioli, who writes for one of Italy’s chief daily papers, La Stampa, puts down in black and white what few Anglo-Saxon journalists would dare in an article about the first day of the exhibit, “‘The Girl’ in Bologna: Here is what the celebrated portrait saw on the debut of the Italian exhibition.”

First, Mattioli paints a bleak portrait of the those “famous 5 million Italians” who “attend art exhibitions and theaters, and read books and newspapers.” The journalist dismisses out of hand the remaining 55 million Italians who instead “ugly themselves watching the most horrible television in the world.” According to Mattioli, one of the main attendants of the exhibition is what he calls the “family from Crema” ( i.e. a typical dumb-money family from a rich provincial town), “super-booked” and overjoyed to attend the spectacle. Between the trip, tickets, tortellini (Bologna’s gastronomic specialty) and catalogue, the “paterfamilias” from Crema will wind up forking up about a thousand euro ($1,400) for the day in Bologna “la grassa” (the rich).

Mattioli’s other targets are the “democratic female school teacher” and the “acculturated retiree” who “just can’t” miss the “latest” exhibition.

Obviously, the people who dared put up such an event receive their share.

Marco Goldin, the organizer the spectacle, is guilty of publically claiming “we could actually sell 300,000 tickets!” Even the guards, who are charged with controlling crowd rage (a malady nowhere more acute than in Italy), are dubbed “buttadentro” (literally “throwins,” a play on the word “buttafuori, ” or guards who mercilessly throw “out” the misbehavers from Italy’s justly maligned discotheques).

Mattioli doesn’t have a hard time rounding up consensus in Italy, where blockbuster art exhibitions have long been the object of disdain Philippe Daverio, a prominent art critic, compares the show to Barbie. Alberto Ronchi, commissioner of cultural affairs of Bologna, is quoted as saying “paintings for an art exhibitions are lent, not rented. We are financing the restoration of a Dutch museum; that’s crazy.” The art critic Vittorio Sgarbi calls the exhibition “useless.”

To round things off neatly, an impromptu poll by Mattioli reveals that seven out of eight Italians in the line for the show had no idea that Raphael’s “iconic” Santa Cecilia is only a few minutes away.