Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Masterpiece from the Capitoline Museum, Rome: The Capitoline Venus

Where: National Galley of Art, West Building

When: through September 5, 2011

For the first time since 1797, when it was seized by Napoleon and taken to Paris, the Capitoline Venus has left Rome. Happily, its current journey is a loan, rather than a heist, and it will return safely to the Capitoline Museum when its visit here is over.

The Capitoline Venus is one of the best preserved examples of Roman art in the world; it dates from the 2nd century AD. Found in the 1670s buried under a garden, it was in very good condition. It really is amazing how art can survive upheavals and cataclysms to delight viewers hundreds of years later.

The statue itself is beautiful, so lifelike you expect it to climb down from its plinth and walk about. There is much to appreciate here, both in its antiquity and in the talent of the sculptor.

I'm happy to report that, although the mad woman who attacked a Gaugin painting earlier in the summer returned to the National Gallery recently and tried to damage a Matisse, she apparently did not realize a naked statue was on display in the main rotunda. I understand from the newspaper accounts that she is now under lock and key, so our nation's collection of priceless art is safe from her insanity, at least for the moment.

Verdict: Do not miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this tremendous piece. I think it's marvelous that the Italians have lent the Venus to the National Gallery, and it was wonderful to see it.

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