Early American Guitars: The Instruments of C.F. Martin
The Met, known the world over for its blockbuster exhibitions, now seems to be heading in the exact opposite direction, highlighting a series of small shows aimed at diverse and narrowly-focused audiences, often underwritten by others. Recently, they mounted the highly controversial JAR jewelry exhibition. This week they’ve opened two additional small shows that may be fascinating for connoisseurs of distinct art genres, but will not, I venture to guess, be to everyone’s taste.
Personally, and much to my surprise, I preferred the Early American Guitars exhibition to the one-room presentation of Piero della Francesca’s Devotional Paintings. But, as is befitting of an institution with the breadth and depth of the Met, we are fortunate to be offered – for our pleasure and education — these unusual gems, each of which is fascinating in its own way.
In all my years of museum going at the Met, I have to confess that I’ve never ventured into the musical instrument wing. Now, I’m happy to say, I’ve rectified that omission due to a lovely little exhibition focused on – and underwritten by — the Martin Guitar Company. The company’s founder, C.F. Martin, born in Saxony, learned his craft in Vienna, and in 1833 emigrated to the U.S., where he set up his first shop and retail store in New York, and became America’s first guitar maker. In 1838, Martin, his family and the company moved to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where they’ve remained and are still in business after 180 years.
This exhibition brings together the largest collection of Martin instruments, including the earliest guitar signed by Martin, drawn from the Met Museum’s holdings as well as from the Martin Guitar Museum and several private collections. The show traces the evolution of early Martin guitars from their Viennese-design style (with a distinctive clef-like design on top) to what became an American way of building guitars, one that incorporated elements from both Viennese and Spanish-style guitars.
Martin guitars have long been the gold standard in American music circles but Eric Clapton’s use of the 002 model, built in 1939, made the Martin brand world famous. Clapton’s guitar is here, courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as are a number of other beautiful and historic instruments, including a Harp Guitar, built by a contemporary of Martin.
To paraphrase that old Levy’s Rye ad, you don’t have to be a musician to appreciate the history and beauty of this exhibition.
Piero Della Francesca’s Devotional Paintings: Personal Encounters
This one-room Exhibition of four works by Piero Della Francesca (1412 – 1492), one of the great painters of the Renaissance, is a curator’s dream of an art history puzzle. Known for his altarpieces and great fresco cycle in Arezzo, he also occasionally painted portraits and small-scale works, including these four paintings – spanning his entire career — for private devotion. They were created for a bedchamber or a private chapel, probably for the Amadi family, originally from Lucca, also Piero della Francesca’s home town. Recent research relating to the history of the family in Venice, plus the restoration of “Saint Jerome and a Supplicant,” a painting from the Gallerie dell’Accademia, in Venice, gave rise to the exhibition.
The four works, never brought together before, was organized by Keith Christiansen, John Pope Hennessy Chairman of the Department of European Paintings, and Andrea Bayer, Curator of European Paintings at the Met, and made possible by the Foundation for Italian Art & Culture (FIAC), in conjunction with the opening of the new European Paintings Galleries, 1250 – 1800.
Piero Della Francesca studied geometry and his art aimed to capture a kind of timeless and sacred perfection.
For those who enjoy the sleuthing and speculation of art historians, as they uncover clues to the development of perspective among Renaissance painters as well as the lives and habits of key figures in our art history, this exhibition will be particularly rewarding.
Early American Guitars (January 14 – December 7, 2014)
and Piero Della Francesca (January 14 – March 30, 2014)
Metropolitan Museum of Art