Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Rome Journal: Gotico Americano

“Gotico Americano” is a small exhibit at the Barbarini which, of course, immediately conjures Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” In this case the two figures are Percy Seldon Straus (1876-1944) and Edith Abraham (1882-1957), an American couple whose anonymous late 14th and to early 15th century masterpieces earned the soubriquet, “Master(s) of the Straus Madonna.” In fact, what's interesting here is the placement of an artwork at the high spot on the esthetic great chain of being.The context in which "Gotico Americano" is displayed  places artists nearer to craftsmen who worked in medieval guilds. In the current age of celebrity, the primacy of the work over the auteur is a refreshing notion. The curators quote the medieval philosopher Meister Eckhart thusly, “it does not matter whether it is Peter or Martin, or whether it is a man or a horse, provided he who executes it, possesses art.” They go on to point out that in the context of the works in which this "master" worked there was the abstract and knowable (pulchrum) and the sensual (formosum). Naturally there are famous collectors in every age, though today the monetization and commodification in which art is treated as a tangible asset would make Straus and Abraham seem as quaint as Grant Wood’s pitchfork carrying subjects.

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