Some of My Favorites

A few days ago, my friend Emilee asked what were my favorite museums and works of art that I have visited/seen during my travels abroad. The things I included in this list are the ones that made a greatest impression on me during my study abroad. I’ve also included some architectural sites and American museums that I love.

The Borghese Gallery, Rome. Anyone who loves Bernini and Caravaggio MUST go here. The collection is amazing. The only time I have cried in front of a work of art was here, in front of Bernini’s David.

The Cornaro Chapel (Santa Maria Vittoria), Rome. Bernini’s St. Theresa in Ecstasy is housed here. I don’t even remember how long I stared at this sculpture, but it was a long time.

St. Peter’s Cathedral and Piazza, Rome. I know that Maderno’s cathedral facade will eternally be the butt of all architectural jokes, but it’s kind of endearing all the same (despite the fact that it covers up the drum of the dome! Silly Maderno.). And to stand in Bernini’s piazza, looking at such a magnificent cathedral – wow. It’s an incredible experience. It’s just as incredible to stand inside the cathedral as well. One feels so small and insignificant inside such a massive structure. The Cathedra Petri (Bernini) and Pieta (Michelangelo) are also gorgeous. There are some great pics of the cathedral and piazza here.

San Vitale, Ravenna. Some of the most gorgeous, glittering mosaics in the world are located here. It’s so stunning.

San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice. I originally went here to see Palladio’s crisp architecture, but ended up being pleasantly surprised to find Tintoretto’s Last Supper here. This is probably my favorite depiction of the Last Supper.

The Louvre, Paris. The works of art that left the greatest impression on me were the Nike of Samothrace, Da Vinci’s Madonna of the Rocks, and David’s Coronation of Napoleon (this painting is MASSIVE!). Of course, I did meander over for my obligatory peep at the Mona Lisa, but it was a rather frustrating experience. There was a large crowd of people shouting and trying to take pictures of the portrait, and you can’t even see the painting very well because it is behind a plastic barrier. I’ve always felt kind of “meh” about the Mona Lisa, and this experience just solidified my indifference. Madonna of the Rocks is a much more striking, interesting painting (and there was no crowd gathered in front of it when I was there!)

The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. One has to see Van Gogh’s works in person.

The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam. I know this isn’t an art museum, but visiting this house was one of the most memorable experiences I have had abroad. I guess this is because I read Anne Frank’s diary as a girl.

The Ghent Altarpiece. This is a very, very large altarpiece, the fine details painted by Jan Van Eyck are absolutely amazing. See pics here.

The Tate. Seeing Ophelia by Millais was unforgettable. I have never seen a slide or reproduction that accurately captured the brillancy of the green vegetation.

United States
The Frick Collection, New York, NY. This collection is displayed in the house that was owned by Mr. Frick, and the staff strives to maintain the ambiance of a private residence. There are not ropes or glass cases protecting the art; rather, it feels as if you are a guest that is invited to walk around the home and view the incredible art. A lot of this art is from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, so I especially love this place. In fact, I’ve already blogged about my experience here. The two things I remember enjoying the most were Holbein’s portrait of Thomas More and Bellini’s St. Francis in Ecstasy.
The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. This is another house of a private collector. The Phillips were interested in collecting “modern” art, although I don’t think everyone would agree with Duncan Phillip’s definition of “modern.” I remember being struck by a beautiful El Greco painting of The Repentant St. Peter. I would imagine that most people wouldn’t label El Greco a modernist (this painting is from the early 17th century), but I can see why a modern art lover would be drawn to the bright colors and exaggerated features of the figure. Duncan Phillips actually called El Greco the “first impassioned expressionist.” This museum also has a great Rothko room that afforded me the most intimate experience with Rothko that I have had thus far. In addition, the collection has temporary exhibitions which are also fantastic.

There are many other places and works of art which left an impression on me, but these are some of my top favorites. When compiling this list, I realized how much I love to see art in settings other than the traditional modern museum space (sometimes called “the white cube” space in museum theory). A lot of the places listed above were/are private houses, palaces, and churches. I think this is partially because I like to look at the architecture as well as the art, and the “white cube” architecture tries to not compete with the art on display. I guess I must like a little of competition between the two mediums? Hmm – perhaps this also reveals how I feel about art’s original intent and where it should be displayed. I’ll have to think about that more.

What about YOU? What are your favorite museums and works of art?

  • e says:

    Oh, wow. This could be a long list.

    -National Gallery: The Wilton Diptych and Holbein’s The Ambassadors
    -National Portrait Gallery: T.E. Lawrence by Augustus Edwin John
    -Tate Britain: William Blake’s drawings, Rosetti’s Annunciation, Ophelia
    -Tate Modern: Concert for Anarchy

    -Pompidou: the giant red rhinoceros
    -Louvre: David gallery, Winged Victory of Samothrace
    -Cluny: Unicorn tapestries (thanks zillah for insisting we go!)
    -Rodin Museum: all of it.
    -Musee d’Orsay: Van Gogh collection

    -Hermitage: Raphael’s Madonna and Child, Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son
    -Tretakov: Rublev’s Old Testament Trinity

    -Philadelphia MOA: Eakin’s Agnew Clinic
    -National Gallery: Gauguin’s Breton Girls Dancing
    Chicago AI: Nighthawks, El Greco’s Assumption, Van Gogh’s The Old Guitar Player

    St. Martins-in-the-Fields, Chartres, Church of the Intercession on the Nerl, Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery, Church of the Savior on Blood, Peterhof fountains and gardens.

  • e says:

    Sorry, that was really long.

  • Emilee . . . says:

    I love this post. It was so fun and interesting to look at everything you referenced (thank you so much for providing the links!). You’re right — “Last Supper” is beautiful.

    I also really liked what you said about “David” in your post from March ’08. I truly agree that art, music, and beautiful buildings (memorials, monuments, shrines, etc.) really are to express the feelings that language lacks the ability to express.

  • Janice C. Cartier says:

    There’s a little room in Dunbarton Oaks that has a special sound quality to it, and displays of very fine objets..You know one of those structural qualities that allows one to hear whispers from the corners. It has been ages since I have been there and yet, it remains one of my favorite looks at a collection in a special surround.

  • M says:

    I’ve never been to Dunbarton Oaks, Janice, but there are nice collections and objects housed in the main New York Public Library. I can relate to what you said; the beautiful architecture and atmosphere at the NYPL (with the same kind of whisper effect you mentioned) make me often think back on my experiences there with fondness.

  • GermyB says:

    New York:
    Dia: Beacon – the whole thing. But I was particularly enthralled with the giant Sol LeWitt wall drawings. And the Agnes Martin paintings.

    Barnett Newman, Vir Heroicus Sublimis
    Joseph Cornell, Taglioni’s Jewel Casket

    Ellsworth Kelly, Spectrum V
    that giant Pollock
    Newman, Shimmer Bright
    (incidentally, all in the same big room…sigh)

    Then there was this installation in some small NYC gallery called “White Noise.” I’ll spare you the detailed description, but it was awesome.

    There was an exhibit there of Rudolf Stingel which I really loved, along with an exhibit about psychedelic art, which I also really loved.

    I think my love of contemporary art really started with a visit to both the Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Pieces that stick out to me from these visits are a large On Karawa work from his “Today” series, a big, black Clyfford Still, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled (The End),” which was a stack of black-edged paper that you were supposed to take a sheet from and keep for yourself.

    There was an exhibit of contemporary Texan artists I saw at the Dallas Museum of Art that made a big impact on me. Also, truly one of the most memorable works I’ve ever encountered was another Gonzalez-Torres installation of thousands of shimmering cellophane-wrapped pale-green candies, covering most of the gallery floor in a rectangle. Visitors were again encouraged to participate by taking a candy and eating it. It was titled a “Portrait” of a friend of the artist’s, whose name I’m forgetting. I took two candies – ate one, and I still have the other. Probably one of my top 5 favorite art experiences.

    Washington D.C.:
    Phillips Collection:
    I have to echo M’s sentiments on this one. I loved the lack of an over-arching “thesis” to the works as a whole. There was nothing it was trying to teach you. It was simply art that the Phillips’ liked. They have a big (I guess scale makes an impression on me… most of the works I’ve listed have been “big”… that’s a little embarrassing) Gene Davis painting that I fell in love with on sight.

    Rothko Chapel:
    I’ve actually never been there, but I wrote a paper on it in school, and I’m pretty sure it is one of my favorite places, even if I’ve never been there.

    Seattle Art Museum:
    There is a marvelous painting (big, again…) by Gloria Petyarre, an aboriginal painter, called “Leaves” that is truly stunning. Plus, they give me my paycheck.

    Seeing as how I’ve beat e for length, I think I’ll have to do Europe at another time…

  • Ashley says:

    Ohhh that was such an amazing trip and I love so many of the museums and works of art you wrote on there too! The Borghese Gallery in Rome was SOOOOO amazing, seeing those Bernini sculptures. I also adored the Musee D’Orsay in Paris and the Rodin museum in Paris. I love Impressionism and late 19’th/early 20’th century art!

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.