Saturday, March 28, 2015

We Three Kings

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through July 5, 2015

There's nothing I like better than seeing works of art that haven't been seen in a long time, or won't ever be seen outside of their home country again or haven't been together in many years.  The three paintings by Rubens meant to represent the "Three Magi" who came to bring gifts to the infant Jesus were painted around 1618 for a friend of Rubens (who had been named after one of the kings; his two brothers had been named after the others).  They currently reside in three different museums and haven't been on display in one place in over 130 years.

The National Gallery owns the middle aged king and is the reason they aren't often together.  The terms of the gift of the painting from Chester Dale mandate the the painting not only never be sold, but also that it is not allowed to travel to another museum.  I have no problem with stipulating that a painting can't be sold, but to insist that it never be loaned?  That seems wrong to me.  So many people will never have an opportunity to travel to Washington, why not make a piece available to other museums in other places?  What if some other museum was putting on a big Rubens show?  Wouldn't it make sense to get as many pieces together as possible?

Oh well, I'm fortunate enough to live here in the DC area, so I can take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity and see all the kings on one wall.  Even though these are not portraits of actual kings, they are certainly realistic.  The young king with his bright eyes and glowing box; the middle aged king with his fine robes and the old king, with his kindly expression of having seen much in his lifetime all are more then symbolic - they look like real people.

In Antwerp, where Rubens' friend lived, the story of the Magi had great resonance.  It was a city that operated for international trade, so the idea of traveling monarchs carrying goods was one that the city adopted readily.  The old king, whose portrait now resides in Puerto Rico and the middle-aged king are now far distant from Belgium, but the young king remains in Belgium.

Verdict: How could you pass up the chance to see these paintings in a group?  The only thing better would be if it were Christmas time!

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