The Davis Museum at Wellesley College is praying that you’ll like its current, and most ambitious to date, exhibition, “The Medici’s Painter: Carlo Dolci and 17th-Century Florence,” running through July 9. Carlo Dolci (1616–1687), known for his fine brushwork, extreme attention to detail, luminous colors, and seemingly enameled surfaces, enjoyed the patronage of the Medici family and lived in cultural times that understood an artist who was extremely devout, even for the cultural times, and a bit of a prude, to boot.
For Dolci, it was all about painting, living, and breathing in the service of God’s glory. Do a little painting, say a couple prayers. A little more painting, fit in some self-flagellation over in the corner of the studio as he contemplated Christ’s suffering. Mortification of the flesh was good for his soul. Painting a whole lot of flesh was not.
The point of this exhibit, however, is to get beyond the artist’s worshipping habits and observations that his paintings are so realistic (“Now that’s talent”, you can almost hear the crowds, from any century, really, marvel) and move deeper into an appreciation of his technique and an understanding of what his painting meant during the times he worked.
I went to the Opening Celebration, a who’s who of local art lovers there to nibble hors d’oeuvres, sip wine, and be the first to gaze upon the basement-level exhibit. The walls were painted in flat jewel tones to harmonize with enameled shine of the mustard yellows, eggplant purples, brick reds, and pewters Dolci favored. Religious-themed portraiture figured prominently — Madonna and child; David holding the slain Goliath’s head; some saints. No ample and nude female forms, but you already knew that. Despite myself, I was enthralled.
Because here’s the truth: when I’m in a huge museum, I speed right past all things that hint of Baroque, Renaissance, or generally biblical. Seen it, seen it, seen it all a hundred times, none of it ever sticks, goes my reasoning. So it’s all to the good that here at my “home” museum, I was convinced to slow down and see what the Davis, which has nothing but my best interests at heart as it tries to smooth out my cultural rough edges, deems worthy. Rather than tossing this exhibit into a category of “not what I like”, I took the opportunity to stroll and appreciate. It’s my hope that perhaps our talented art and/or history students at Wellesley High School and Dana Hall might have a field-trip opportunity to do the same.
Curator Eve Straussman-Pflanzer (with the help of a veritable team of curators) must have had to jump through hoops, cross rivers and oceans, call in favors, make promises, and form alliances (perhaps with the devil himself), to get the exhibit of over fifty works all together here in little old Wellesley. She got the Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Pitti, both in Florence, to say yes. She got the Louvre Museum on board. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston agreed to get in on the action. There were rich private collectors to purr to and lots and lots of donors and grants organizations to convince, as well. But the deed is done.
Such a rare display means that the general public will need to buy tickets if they want to go. General Admission $20; Wellesley College alumnae $12. Gratis entry for all students, Wellesley College faculty and staff, Friends of Art members, and Durant Society members.
Tue – Sun, 11am – 5pm