100 Metropolitan Museum Curators Talk About 100 Works of Art That Changed How They See the World

Which best describes your muse­um-going expe­ri­ence? Inspi­ra­tion and spir­i­tu­al refresh­ment? Or a soul crush­ing attempt to fight your way past the hoards there for the lat­est block­buster exhib­it, with a too-heavy bag and a whin­ing, foot sore com­pan­ion in tow?

Would­n’t it be won­der­ful to lose your­self in con­tem­pla­tion of a sin­gle work? What about that giant one at the top of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art’s Grand Stair­case? For every vis­i­tor who paus­es to take it in, anoth­er thou­sand stream by with hard­ly a glance.

The above com­men­tary by cura­tor of Ital­ian paint­ings, Xavier Salomon, may well turn Gio­van­ni Bat­tista Tiepolo’s The Tri­umph of Mar­ius into one of the Met’s hottest attrac­tions. It’s often dif­fi­cult for the aver­age muse­um-goer to under­stand what the deal is in one of these dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed, 19th cen­tu­ry oils. Salomon sup­plies the need­ed his­tor­i­cal context—general Gaius Mar­ius parad­ing cap­tive Numid­i­an king Jugurtha through the streets upon his tri­umphal return to Rome.

Things get even more inter­est­ing when he trans­lates the Latin inscrip­tion at the top of the can­vas: “The Roman peo­ple behold Jugurtha laden with chains.” In oth­er words, you can for­go the hero wor­ship of the title and con­cen­trate on the bad guy. This, Salomon spec­u­lates, is what the artist had in mind when swathing Jugurtha in that eye-catch­ing red cape. Jugurtha may be the los­er, but his refusal to be hum­bled before the crowd is win­some.

As is 82nd and 5th, an online series that aims to cel­e­brate 100 trans­for­ma­tive works of art from the muse­um’s col­lec­tion before year’s end. In addi­tion to Salomon’s com­pelling thoughts on The Tri­umph of Mar­ius, some plea­sures thus far include Melanie Hol­comb, Asso­ciate Cura­tor of Medieval Art and The Clois­ters, geek­ing out over illus­trat­ed man­u­script pages and fash­ion and cos­tume cura­tor Andrew Bolton recall­ing his first encounter with one of design­er Alexan­der McQueen’s most extreme gar­ments. Each video is sup­ple­ment­ed with a tab for fur­ther explo­ration. You can also find the talks col­lect­ed on YouTube.

Bril­liant­ly con­ceived and exe­cut­ed, these com­men­taries pro­vide vir­tu­al muse­um-goers with a high­ly per­son­al tour, and can only but enrich the expe­ri­ence of any­one lucky enough to vis­it in the flesh.

Relat­ed Con­tent:


Down­load Hun­dreds of Free Art Cat­a­logs from The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art

Google Art Project Expands, Bring­ing 30,000 Works of Art from 151 Muse­ums to the Web

Free: The Guggen­heim Puts 65 Mod­ern Art Books Online

Ayun Hal­l­i­day  has her fin­gers crossed for some com­men­tary on the Met’s hunky Stand­ing Hanu­man.

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  • James says:

    The title isn’t hero wor­ship — it’s just refer­ring to the Roman prac­tice of a vic­to­ri­ous gen­er­al parad­ing through the streets. The mod­ern mean­ing of tri­umph derives from this archa­ic sense of the term.

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