Saturday, March 8, 2008

A Beautiful Artifice at the Frick

ART New York

“A Beautiful Artifice” Charms Visitors of the Frick

"A Beautiful Artifice"
The Frick
1 East 70th Street
On view until April 27, 2008

by Val Bitici

As a New Yorker, I am blessed to be able to frequent and know well the great art museums in my city. With my tastes always fervently skewed towards Renaissance and Baroque art, I grew to love the Frick Collection soon after I was first allowed through its doors at the age of ten. With over a decade of monthly visits to the collection under my belt, I am often eager to see their special exhibitions. So when I heard that Parmigianino’s Antea was traveling on special loan from the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples to New York, it was without question that I visit her.

Antea’s combination of loveliness and strangeness is a most alluringly unnerving juxtaposition. She stands life-sized at the center of the oval room at the Frick and captivates us from the moment we enter her space. The sitter, a young, fair and rosy-cheeked beauty, is all at once palpable and elusive. Her head is disproportionately smaller than her stocky, almost masculine body, and her right shoulder is jarringly broader than her left. Yet she shows no shame for her peculiar appearance. Draped in jewels and swathed in a fur stole and luxurious garments of gold satin and embroidered cloth, she is a vision of wealth forever setting her apart from the stark space that she inhabits. Her eerily candid stare informs us that she in not at all concerned with her own surroundings. As her left hand absent-mindedly fumbles with the gold chain around her neck, Antea’s gaze peers beyond the threshold of her own space and into ours. With this, the line between reality and idealism wavers between stringency and ambiguity. The sitter’s identity is unknown and mysterious, yet her regal demeanor gives her an unmistakably earned presence. Parmigianino has painted her as an ideal vision of beauty and strength. Hence Antea, as the curator of the show has described her, is an “artifice.” She is the enigmatic archetype of an ethereal beauty, obtainable only through this painted masterpiece and isolated from all that we know.

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