What makes a masterpiece?

06Nov09

That’s the intriguing question I pondered all afternoon.

A colleague and I went to see The Louvre and the Masterpiece at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts today.

The exhibit was mounted by several curators from the Louvre, with the stated goal of exploring “why some artworks are masterpieces, while others are runners-up.”

I found that this philosophical backdrop greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the small—but surprisingly representative—exhibit.

There was no question that Antoine-Louis Baryé’s Lion with Serpent is a masterpiece. My friend commented that you could practically feel the soul of the lion coming through that bronze.

Ditto for Vermeer’s The Astronomer. For me, the man in that painting is still alive, bathed in sunlight, leaning forward in his chair.

To my surprise, though, I pondered whether Leonardo da Vinci’s beautiful Drapery Study was truly a masterpiece. It didn’t communicate anything to me beyond the artist’s extraordinary skill.

I was left wondering: If a drawing is devoid of emotion, is it still art? And what can be said of forgeries? Are they any less beautiful (or valuable) because they were created to defraud? Is a sculpture any less inspiring because it was made by a madman?

In the end, the exhibit didn’t answer any of these questions. But it did frame my appreciation of art in an entirely new light.

The Louvre and the Masterpiece is on display through January 10, 2010.



No Responses Yet to “What makes a masterpiece?”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: