“Why?” (do you visit the museum so often)

A professional from Guadalajara visiting Cleveland for the first time was enthusing about the city’s many attractions, especially the art museum. “It’s magnificent–world class,” she exclaimed! “The Rubens, the Velasquez, the Goya…,”  she rattled-off several more masterpieces she’d seen.

“I know,” I nodded, “I visit the museum every week.”

“Every week? But, WHY,” the astonished art lover asked?!

I was as astonished by her question as she was about my statement.  “Art is like food and oxygen–essential to life,” I responded.

She walked away shaking her head in disbelief.

I’ve always been an indefatigable museum visitor. So how can someone visit the same museum every week?

First, any major museum, such as The Cleveland Museum of Art, displays just a percentage of its collection at a given time. Repeated visits are rewarded as the collection rotates.

Next, there are some paintings that, no matter how often I walk past them, I just don’t see. For example, Poussin’s The Return of the Holy Family to Nazareth was invisible for a long time–I walked past it countless times. I like Poussin a lot (in fact, he is one of my favorites), but many of his paintings suffer from poor preservation. Colors have faded and the orange grounds favored by the artist show through to bad result, or colors have been cleaned off. Mary’s blue and black robe today cannot reflect how it once looked.


Another example of an invisible (to me) painting is Murillo’s huge (110″ x 157″) Laban Searching for his Stolen Household Gods. How, you might ask, can someone walk past such a large painting as if it was invisible?

murilloFor one, it’s in a room with many strong paintings. Second, it suffers from poor preservation, which always annoys me. Third, it just didn’t seem that strong (the tent is awkward and over-size). But since I’ve ‘discovered’ it, I always pause to study its considerable charms. Especially the Bruegel-like group of figures in the lower-right.

So, I am always ‘discovering’ previously overlooked paintings.

Finally, and most importantly, there are the paintings that renew and refresh me, which I never fail to study each time I visit. The Cleveland Museum of Art has a large assortment of these magic works. To name just a single example, Andrea del Sarto’s The Sacrifice of Issac never fails to lift me.

sartoThis unfinished painting transports me to the master’s studio where I can study his manner–del Sarto is always alive to me when I study this painting.

Refreshed, reinvigorated, and reinvented. Each time I visit a museum I discover a little more about who I am.

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