Renaissance Art

Girolamo dai Libri at the Metropolitan Museum is the Daily Pic by Blake Gopnik

The Daily Pic: Why did Girolamo dai Libri paint Christ and his mother as arborists?

A lovely altarpiece, almost 13 feet tall, painted in about 1520 by the ultra-obscure Veronese artist Girolamo dai Libri, now standing out in almost comic relief against the grim architecture of the Lehman wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Click on the image to see it in detail.) I love the way Girolamo managed to stick to the sweetness of a 15th-century style while including some of the “modernizations” of 16th-century Florence and Rome. Of course, the central conundrum of this painting is the massive area given over to the foliage at its center. There are obvious iconological solutions to its unbalanced composition, but I like to think that in fact it’s all about how Girolamo was taken with the idea of fixed perspectival viewings of “modern” pictures: he imagined his tree would only ever be seen in peripheral vision, convincingly and impressively looming overhead as a “roof” of green, as our eyes kept their focus on the Mother and Child. In other words, he didn’t buy into the idea of painting as a composition in 2D, but thought instead in terms of giving us access to a three-dimensional world, where issues of “balance”, and of what appears where, have to be thought of in entirely different terms.

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