15 January 2019

A Bike Ride As Preparation To See A Master

I've known and ridden with cyclists who could or would not ride by themselves.   Whether they went on organized treks with clubs or impromptu sprints with friends and acquaintances, they simply could not conceive of a solo spin down their local streets or in a faraway locale.

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I am not that kind of cyclist.  And I have never been.  Oh, there are times when I like to ride with one other person, or in small groups. (I haven't done a big organized ride like the Five Boro Bike Tour in a long time.)  But I am also content when my ride is simply me, my bike and my surroundings--whether that backdrop is a winding lane in the hills, a road along a seashore or a boulevard in a fashionable (or not-so-fashionable) part of a city.

The last clause in the previous paragraph describes the riding I did this morning.  I rode down arrow-straight residential streets near my hotel to rondeaux at la Place de l'Opera, la Porte de la Vilette (where African immigrants waited for contractors to hire them out as day laborers), la Bastille and la Republique before heading down to the Boulevard Haussmann in the 8th Arrondisssement.  You can't get much more fashionable than that.

I did not, however, go there to be seen--especially being dressed the way I was!  Instead, at the suggestion of Jay and Isabelle, I checked out a museum that I now cannot believe I never entered in my previous visits to (much less in the time I was living in) Paris.  It was like going to la Musee Cognaq-Jay (which I visited two and a half years ago), only on a much bigger and greater scale.

The similarity is this:  the Museum is a mansion , like the Cognaq-Jay, named for the people who lived, and collected art, in it.  Edouard Andre came from a prosperous French Protestant family and developed a love of art.  Nelie Jacquemart, on the other hand, came from a Catholic family of modest circumstances.  She became a painter of some renown who made portraits of some powerful and influential people of her time.  Andre--who was known for his taste as well as his means of acquiring art--commissioned her to do his portrait.

I know this sounds like a period-piece romantic comedy movie script, but they got married.  Whether he was taken by her portrait of him, or she by his taste (which may have included said portrait) was never made clear.  What is known, however, is that they shared a passion for art and artifacts and, never having had any children, spent the rest of their lives travelling to acquire such pieces, and promoting the work of artists and musicians who were their contemporaries.  As a guide said, "They made their lives a work of art."

He died about two decades before she did and he left everything to her with the stipulation that she would be prudent with their heritance.  Her will, in essence, stipulated the creation of the museum.

I can't help but to wonder about the artist who was featured in a special exhibition.  Their collection consisted mainly of late-17th and 18th Century artists, which collectors were starting to favor a century later, during Andre's and Jacquemart's lifetimes.  

The artist featured in the exhibition--which will run for the rest of this month--did this painting:

The man in the picture is with himself, reflecting on the state of his soul.  It's hard to see in this photo, but there is a crucifix in the background which is even hard to see when you are face-to-face with the painting.  And, unlike other portraits of saints, this one has a halo that's barely visible.

One of my regular readers (hint:  he lives in Finland) surely knows the creator of this image.  I am sure that some of my other readers do, too.  For everyone else, I'll tell you his name:  Michelangelo (no, not that one) Merisi, better known as Caravaggio.

Contrary to what you may have heard, he did not invent the "chiaroscuro" technique of painting, in which the subject is set against a dark background, so that there are no "props", if you will, to distract the viewer.  But he probably used it to greater effect than anyone else.  One of the best examples of it, in my opinion, is the painting of St. Francis in meditation I showed above.

Some might opt for this one, of St. Jerome translating the Bible.  I wouldn't try to change their opinion:

or the opinion of anyone who prefers this one, of a young John the Baptist with a ram:

or either of the Mary Magdalen portraits he did:

Somehow, I think he could have done some very interesting portaits of cyclists alone on a mountain pass or the Boulevard Haussmann.

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