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Norton Simon Art Museum

For centuries art museums have provided the public with the privilege to experience art as it should be instead of being hidden away by private owners. Museums around the world offer the opportunity for average citizens to experience art works that only the wealthiest individuals could afford. The art museum that I visited to experience great works of art was the Norton Simon Art Museum. I visited the Norton Simon Art Museum in Pasadena, California on March 27, 2009 at 2:00 P. M. It was a profound learning experience because the Norton Simon Art Museum provides viewers with an extensive collection of art from many artistic periods.

The museum started with humble beginnings as the Pasadena Art Institute in a Victorian house, the twenty-two room Reed Mansion, which only housed nineteenth century American and European art. After years of struggling, Norton Simon, an entrepreneur and art collector, found a home for his vast collection at the Pasadena Art Institute in nineteen seventy-four. He then invested an immense amount of money into the floundering museum, and took a leadership role in the management of the operation. In nineteen seventy- five, the name was appropriately changed to the Norton Simon Museum of Art.

Mr. Simon played an active role in the management of the museum even after he became ill in nineteen eighty-four until his death in nineteen- ninety three. The Norton Simon Art Institute has a wide selection of art in its permanent collections. In fact there are over one thousand objects on view throughout the galleries and gardens and there are many more that are not yet on display. The extensive display from Asia is extremely impressive. The ancient paintings and sculptures are interesting, but the collection of bronze from this area is remarkable.

The gallery of Fourteenth through Sixteenth Century European Art includes works from the Early Renaissance, High Renaissance, and Mannerism while the gallery of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century European Art offers viewers examples of Baroque pieces from Italy, Spain, and Dutch painters. The gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art presents both paintings and sculptures from the late eighteenth century to the works of today and concentrates heavily on Post Impressionism, Cubism, and Post War Contemporary works. The main attractions from all periods were paintings and sculptures.

When I entered the building, the gallery of Fourteenth through Sixteenth Century European Art was on my left and the gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art was on my left. The museum was laid out in such a way that I could go chronologically through the galleries or I could start with Modern art and go back. The Asian Art was on the lower level as if it were not connected with the Western Art. The artistic period that I found the most interesting in the Norton Simon Art Institute was that of the Baroque Period and I found the paintings of this period in the gallery of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century European Art.

The fact that it is an artistic period that is strictly Western. I am impressed with the fact that it started in Italy and since the Catholic Church was dominant during the seventeenth century, the themes are usually that of a religious nature. I find that fascinating, because I believe that the religious beliefs of any society gives great insight into the culture. I am also taken with the splendor that is displayed in the artwork of that period.

While touring the gallery of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century European Art where the Baroque art is displayed, I took particular note of the painting St. Joseph and the Infant Christ painted in sixteen eighty-five by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, better known as Baciccio. The medium of the painting is oil on canvas which was popular at the time. The painting first caught my eye because it is of Joseph with the infant instead of Mary. In this painting, he shows so much love for this infant that is not biologically his and to me that is a display of true love.

Joseph has just scooped up the baby and has not had time to straighten the cloth that was wrapped around the baby while the child playfully grabs for his beard showing that he is comfortable with his earthly father. Joseph looks at Jesus with an adoring expression that shows that he loves him regardless of the circumstance. To me, Baciccio means for this to be a spiritual moment since there is a faint halo above Joseph’s head that is barely discernable and there are beams of light that radiate from the baby’s head. Baciccio not only captures a moment in time with St.

Joseph and the Christ Child, but he makes use of the elements and principals that were prominent during the Baroque Period. The use of line creates a sense of flowing that creating a sense of connection between the child and St. Joseph. From Joseph’s sparse hair on his head, the hair of his beard, the lines in Joseph’s aged face, to the garments of both subjects, the lines are curved and varied to create a flowing motion. The only straight lines are in the architecture that is barely visible in the background which gives a sense of permanence.

The predominant hues that Baciccio chooses are earth tones. The red of Joseph’s cloak is actually more orange which symbolizes the poverty and connection with God’s creation. The orange red reflects the light with its brightness. The background is a contrast with muted shades of dark green that reflect no light. It is through the use of curved lines and the dark, to bright, and then light colors to create a rhythm. The form of the work is mostly triangular with the point being the top of St. Joseph’s head and the subjects spread to become much wider at the bottom of the painting.

The element of form also creates a balance within the painting because the subjects are arranged harmoniously. By placing the subjects with St. Joseph facing directly toward the viewer, the emphasis is definitely more toward him than the infant. The space of the painting appears three dimensional because of the way that Baciccio uses the size of objects and the reflection of light to create dimension. There is little texture to the painting because the brush strokes are smooth and tight which is another technique the artist uses to create light reflection.

It is through these artistic principles that Baciccio brings unity to the painting creating the emotion that I feel he intended the viewer to have and that is to understand the magnitude of St. Josephs love for the baby Jesus. I think that he wanted me to see this love as not only the love of a father with a baby, but a baby that was the son of God, who came from a woman that Joseph loved enough to suffer countless ridicules because she was not living with him at the time of conception.

I feel that he wanted the viewer to experience love at its purest, and with me, he accomplished his objective. As I ended my visit at the Norton Art Institute, and had visited all of the galleries, I strolled through the garden that was as much a work of art as the statues that are strategically placed throughout the garden. This living work of art is designed to provide different experiences during each season. Since I visited in late March, spring was in full bloom. Not only was the garden bursting with color, but the fragrance of the mock orange trees was amazing.

My experience at the Norton Art Institute was a positive one. From the layout of the museum to the friendly curators and other employees, the mood was one of welcome. I also felt a sense of being laid back and that there was no pressure to quickly move on to the next work or gallery. The architecture of the building blended well with the lay of the land and blended well with the community. This particular museum has given a great deal to the people of Pasadena, California and the visitors, who come to the area.

The museum brings exposure to the great artist of a wide range of artistic periods to everyday people who would never get the privilege of viewing art any other way. It is through art that people get to connect with other time periods and culture and thanks to the Norton Simon Art Institute, this has been made possible for thousands of individuals.

References Delahunt, M. Artlex Art Dictionary. Retrieved April 9, 2009 from http://www. artlex. com Norton Simon Art Institute. Retrieved April 9, 2009 from http://www. nortonsimon. org

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