Monday, June 29, 2009

Fictional recollections?

In the Museé des Beaux Arts, Auden famously said that the Old Masters were never wrong*, but the meteorological wisdom of the 21st century avers otherwise. Last week I visited the excellent exhibit at the Jewish Museum, and there, next to a brooding landscape of van Ruysdael, I read that “Meteorologists have even concluded that van Ruysdael’s lovely clouds are largely fictional recollections.”
I was disturbed, because the truth of those wafting yet energized clouds is something I have long held dear.
The very next day I encountered, in neat italics next to John Singer Sargent’s iconic Portrait of Madame X, this disclaimer: “New research by fashion historians and couturiers has determined that the structure of Madame X’s dress is physically impossible.”
And not much later I was admiring Rubens’ Creation of the Milky Way and there beside the vast canvas was this note: “Cosmologists tell us that recent analysis of galactic debris has definitively proven that Rubens’ portrayal of the Milky Way ‘s origin via a spray of milk from the nipples of Juno is incorrect. The milk in question emanated from organic Vermont cows.”

Where does all this punctilious fact-checking leave us? Desperately clinging to our allusions. I tremble lest it is discovered that Garden of Eden is not as portrayed in Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.

*What he actually said is that they were never wrong about suffering.

1 comment:

Rebecca Rice said...

Wonderful, erudite post on Auden, the Old Masters, and the persnickety modern fact-checkers!

Thanks for enlightening your dear readers with your wit and wisdom!