CHESTERTOWN, MD—One of the world’s leading experts on Italian Renaissance painting will elucidate one of the period’s masterpieces when he delivers the ninth annual Janson-La Palme Distinguished Lecture in European Art History at Washington College on Thursday, April 19.
Keith Christiansen, John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of the Department of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will explore Giovanni Bellini’s painting in the Frick Collection, “St. Francis in the Desert,” in a talk entitled “Bellini, St. Francis and the Religious Poesia” at 5 p.m. in Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts, on the College campus, 300 Washington Avenue.
The preeminent Venetian painter of the late 15th and early 16th century, and teacher of both Titian and Giorgione, Giovanni Bellini is admired for both the technical brilliance and the beauty of his work. His painting of St. Francis of Assisi, which, among other things, marks the beginning of true landscape painting in Italy, shows a transcendent moment for Francis at his mountainside retreat at Monte La Verna. The background is bathed in sunlight, with a cooler light washing over St. Francis and his rocky setting. The saint seems to face the source of the bright light, mouth agape and arms outstretched, with the stigmata, or wounds of Christ’s Crucifixion, visible on his palms. (To see the painting in more detail and tour the Frick gallery where it is displayed, go to http://www.frick.org/exhibitions/bellini/google.htm.)
Despite generations of erudite scholarship and recent technical investigation of the panel, there is surprisingly little certainty about the scene it captures and its meaning. In his talk, Christiansen will review what we know of the painting's history and discuss the new kind of poetics of painting it proposes and the active viewer it requires.
Keith Christiansen joined the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as an assistant curator of European paintings soon after earning his Ph.D. in Art History at Harvard in 1977. He steadily rose in the curatorial ranks to his current position as the John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of the Department of European Paintings. He has taught Art History and Archeology at Columbia University and is an adjunct professor at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.
The Janson-La Palme Distinguished Lecture in European Art History was established by Washington College Professor Emeritus Robert J.H. Janson-La Palme and his wife, Bayly, to bring internationally known scholars on European art to campus for public lectures and presentations. “We are pleased to have someone of Mr. Christiansen’s caliber and experience as part of the series,” says Janson-La Palme. “He has risen to the top of his field at one of the great museums of the world, and we look forward to his insights into Bellini’s wonderful masterpiece.” For more information about the lecture series, please visit http://art.washcoll.edu/.
A reception sponsored by the College’s 1782 Society and the Department of Art and Art History will follow the lecture in the Underwood Lobby. Both the talk and the reception are free and open to the public.