A way of seeing

Reflections on a work of art
A few weeks ago, oppressed by some worrying news, I stopped into our college art museum. On the floor devoted to American and modern European paintings, I paused to admire Charles Sheeler’s Rolling Power, a close-up of train wheels, pistons and steam commissioned by Fortune magazine to honor the dynamism of the industrial age. Then I stepped around the corner, and Sheeler’s steely monochrome gave way to an effulgence of golds, greens and blues so brilliant it bleached out the engines of modernism and lit up the floor. The radiance was emanating from The Coronation of the Virgin, a newly acquired triptych altarpiece by the 16th-century German painter Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder, and housed in a room of its own with didactic panels on the walls recounting the coordinated campaigns of conservation, restoration and provenance research by which the treasure had been salvaged, as it were, from shipwreck. It was the best distraction I could hope for.

 

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