Saturday, March 14, 2009

The hottest show of the year . . .

. . . is not, rather obviously, the silly Shepard Fairey extravaganza at the ICA. It is, instead, "Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice," which opens tomorrow at the MFA. And I mean this show is literally hot, with a central boudoir of paintings of Venus and Danaë (below right) that's so erotically charged you may go weak in the knees. The raves have begun pouring in, although oddly the local press has been somewhat less ecstatic than the Times, which gives more of a sense of the full import of the show. As for me, I'm still reeling, still poring over the catalogue, and still plotting my next approach. But in the meantime, I felt it was important to say, and say clearly, that this is the greatest local art show of the year. And certainly the last decade, and maybe the next. There are arguments to be made over its argument, and it's undeniable that the exhibit never gives a sense of the full scope of Tintoretto or Veronese (and only hints at Titian's). Still, when you're in its thrall, this hardly matters; its "Three-Tenors" pretext may be merely an excuse for assembling the greatest collection of Old Masters - from the Uffizi and the Prado and the Louvre - ever seen in Boston, but then what more excuse do you need? There are nineteen Titians in this show, including at least four masterpieces (Flora, above left) and a half-dozen variants still more radiantly seductive than any other painting in Boston. It's hard to believe, when one ponders the cost of insurance and transport, that such a group was ever made to cohere, and the odds are it will never happen again in your or my lifetime. But until August, we can boast one of the greatest collections of Italian Old Masters in the New World.

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