Cuylenburches, Canalettos, and creepy clowns

It may seem from my notes on the past week that all I did was sit on my ass in a speedo and watch TV with my aunt and uncle, when all of Sarasota was out there waiting to be painted red. Well, that's not entirely how it all went down. I spent the daylight hours poolside, and on the beach, of course. Did a lot of reading (Reinhold Niebuhr's prescient The Irony of American History--more about which later, and People Magazine), and since bedtime was kind of early and I didn't want to hang out in some cheesy Margaritaville bar on St. Armand's Circle chatting up the aging parrotheads, I watched a fair share of TV in my room.

But I did manage to get out on occasion, and, on a tip from a friend, visited the Ringling Museum in Sarasota. What a treasure trove that is. I had no idea. Aside from what you might expect from Ringling (i.e., a lot of circus memorabilia, which was fascinating in its own right, though not exactly my thing) there was a real art museum on the grounds with real art in it, too. There were mostly what I'm sure art-snobs would say were B-rate artists, and a lot of works by students of A-list artists, but there were some indisputably lovely pieces in Ringling's private collection.

Like these two below, for example (Antonio de Belli’s Flaying of Marsyas by Apollo and Frans Snyders’ Still Life with Dead Game) which were among my faves for the day.

It was actually refreshing to see works I had not seen before by artists I didn't know. Jan Flyt’s The Calydonian Boar Hunt (below) was another one I quite liked. This is a great scene of delightful carnage from Greek mythology, that has been done a thousand times, and this depiction definitely does it justice.

I do love scenes of carnage. But naked lads will do as well. And there were plenty here. Among my favorites were William Etty's, of course. He was well-known for his nudes, both male and female. In fact, it seems he never painted anyone fully clothed. His outrageous, flamboyant compositions don't disappoint. The Combat couples carnage and carnality, and you can't beat that combination. Unfortunately, I can't share it with you, because the painting was in an odd place high on the wall, and it was difficult to get a good shot of it without a flash.

Instead, here's the lovely Eros Revealing a Sleeping Venus to a Bashful Satyr, c. 1720, by Giuseppe Chiari. God, I love those bashful satyrs. I've met a few in my time.

But there were plenty of A-list works, too. There was an impressive gallery of enormous Rubens paintings. We're talking 12.5' X 17' here. And, as everyone knows, with Rubens, size mattered.

In the Venetian Renaissance room: Paolo Veronese’s The Rest on the Flight from Egypt had colors worthy of Titian.

The Belle Epoque Gallery was brilliant as well. But then, that was the Belle Epoque. There was not a painting in this room I was not taken with. There was (below, top-to-bottom) Pre-Raphaelite Sir Edward Burne-Jones's dreamlike The Sirens. And the eerie, inexplicable The Mystery of Life by Carl Marr. The stark, haunting French Artillery (An Episode in the Franco-Prussiuan War, 1870-1871) by Jean Baptiste-Edouard Detaille. Rosa Bonheur's gorgeous, simple Ploughing in Nivernais.

The experience of the museums and the grounds was also thoroughly enjoyable. There were docents giving tours, and while I didn’t stay with a group, whenever I found myself in one, I found the docent’s insights worthwhile and interesting. They didn’t have a script they recited by rote, but offered observations of their own. You could see their enthusiasm and it was infectious. There were volunteers (mostly retirees) with personality to spare to taxi you about the grounds in eight-seater golf carts. Everyone was laid-back and friendly, and sharing their knowledge and their stories and their personalities freely. That and the truly impressive collection and gorgeous setting, made for a lovely day. An absolute delight.


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