Saturday, May 26, 2012

From the Library: The Fleeting Structures of Early Modern Europe

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through July 29, 2012

Note that this exhibit is not in the National Gallery's library in the East Building (despite the name); it's in a small alcove on the ground floor of the West Building.  I had mistaken the location and was on my way to the East Building, eagerly anticipating a trip to the library - my favorite location there - when I had to make a detour in the West Building and stumbled across the show.  Sometimes, an ounce of luck is worth a pound of planning.

The display revolves around the spectacles that were put on in Europe to celebrate major events or to impress visitors, and the grand buildings constructed to house them.  Sadly, most of these buildings were pulled down after the celebration ended, so one can only imagine their grandeur.  I was reminded of the "White City" constructed to house the Chicago World's Fair, now only a memory.  Side note: if you've not read Erik Larsen's The Devil in the White City, I recommend it highly.  But I digress...

With the advent of movable type (an occurrence for which I feel gratitude on a daily basis), books began to appear showing pictures of the buildings.  They served as mementos for those who attended, and as a way for those who could not attend to "see" what they missed.  Interestingly enough, these works were not always "real and true" renditions of the structures - much like the "view paintings" from Venice sometimes improved upon the aspects visible from a particular vantage point in order to make a better picture.

The display features several of these festival books, which are interesting enough, but it would have been nice if there had been information on the differences between what was depicted and what was real.  One is left thinking, "Well, that looks nice - wonder if it bears any resemblance to reality?"

Verdict: If you're already headed to the National Gallery, tack this on to your trip, but I don't think it merits a special visit on its own.

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