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“Mantegna to Matisse: Master Drawings from the Courtauld Gallery” at the Frick; Can An Abundance of Greatness Ever Be Too Much of a Grand Thing?

Rubens, Portrait of Helena Fourment

Who can take issue with a surplus of the sublime, even if it’s contained in two small rooms in the Frick’s shoebox of a basement and a tiny room on the street-level floor?

It’s a relatively small show of drawings by Michelangelo, Durer, Rembrandt, Rubens, Ingres — and that’s just the beginning of the cornucopia of great artists represented in 58 works on loan from London’s Courtauld Gallery.

That’s not to ignore Bernini, Canaletto, Watteau, or Fragonard — they’re here too.  As are Goya, van Gogh, and Manet.

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Parmigianino, Seated Woman

It’s like a ten-pound box of chocolate truffles — way too many sweets to savor in a single sitting.

As might be expected in a show that covers art from the late Middle Ages to the early 20th century, the styles and purposes of the drawings are all over the place.  There are Leonardo’s scribbled studies of Mary Magdalene, Pieter Breugel the Elder’s detailed line drawing of a peasant scene that would be used to make a print, and a watercolor by Cezanne meant as a finished piece.

Rembrandt’s drawings here are a quick visual record of whatever interested him.  Parmigianino seemed to pick up the chalk because he liked a woman’s pose.  Goya’s drawing inhabits his private world of witches and demons.  Mantegna struggled to get the posture of Christ just right and used both sides of the same sheet.

 

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