Interpretation

Lecturer Rika Burnham reveals the surprising insights that come to light when she has a conversation about a work of art.

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I believe that I open the eyes of the people I teach, but I believe they open my eyes, as well.

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  • Rika Burnham
    1280852
  • The Penitent Magdalen  |  Georges de La Tour (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1978 (1978.517)
    7091024
  • Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece)  |  ca. 1427–1432  |  Workshop of Robert Campin (South Netherlandish)  |  South Netherlands (modern Belgium), Tournai  |  Oil paint on oak  |  The Cloisters Collection, 1956 (56.70)
    1280646
  • Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man  |  1655  |  Nicolas Poussin (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Marquand Fund, 1924 (24.45.2)
    1280960
  • The Annunciation  |  Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden (possibly Hans Memling) (Netherlandish)  |  Oil on wood  |  Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.7)
    6271024
  • The Annunciation  |  Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden (possibly Hans Memling) (Netherlandish)  |  Oil on wood  |  Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.7)
    8591024
  • The Terrace at Vernonnet  |  1939  |  Pierre Bonnard (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Florence J. Gould, 1968 (68.1)  |  © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
    1024776
  • The Green Blouse  |  1919  |  Pierre Bonnard (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  The Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson Jr. Purchase Fund, 1963 (63.64)  |  © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
    6881024
  • The Green Blouse  |  1919  |  Pierre Bonnard (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  The Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson Jr. Purchase Fund, 1963 (63.64)  |  © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
    1280846
  • Portrait of a Cardinal, Probably Cardinal Don Fernando Niño de Guevara (1541–1609)  |  ca. 1600  |  El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek)  |  Oil on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.5)
    6471024
  • Portrait of a Cardinal, Probably Cardinal Don Fernando Niño de Guevara (1541–1609)  |  ca. 1600  |  El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek)  |  Oil on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.5)
    1195799
  • Portrait of a Cardinal, Probably Cardinal Don Fernando Niño de Guevara (1541–1609)  |  ca. 1600  |  El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek)  |  Oil on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.5)
    6471024
  • The Dead Christ with Angels  |  1864  |  Èdouard Manet (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.51)
    8491024
  • Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)  |  1950  |  Jackson Pollock (American)  |  Enamel on canvas  |  George A. Hearn Fund, 1957 (57.92)  |  © 2011 Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    1280649
  • The Lamentation  |  ca. 1582  |  Ludovico Carracci (Italian, Bolognese)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace and The Annenberg Foundation Gifts; Harris Brisbane Dick, Rogers, and Gwynne Andrews Funds; Pat and John Rosenwald, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, and Jon and Barbara Landau Gifts; Gift of Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family; and Victor Wilbour Memorial, Marquand, The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment, and Charles B. Curtis Funds, 2000 (2000.68)
    1280708
  • The Lamentation  |  ca. 1582  |  Ludovico Carracci (Italian, Bolognese)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace and The Annenberg Foundation Gifts; Harris Brisbane Dick, Rogers, and Gwynne Andrews Funds; Pat and John Rosenwald, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, and Jon and Barbara Landau Gifts; Gift of Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family; and Victor Wilbour Memorial, Marquand, The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment, and Charles B. Curtis Funds, 2000 (2000.68)
    10211024
  • The Lamentation  |  ca. 1582  |  Ludovico Carracci (Italian, Bolognese)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace and The Annenberg Foundation Gifts; Harris Brisbane Dick, Rogers, and Gwynne Andrews Funds; Pat and John Rosenwald, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, and Jon and Barbara Landau Gifts; Gift of Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family; and Victor Wilbour Memorial, Marquand, The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment, and Charles B. Curtis Funds, 2000 (2000.68)
    1280784
  • The Lamentation  |  ca. 1582  |  Ludovico Carracci (Italian, Bolognese)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace and The Annenberg Foundation Gifts; Harris Brisbane Dick, Rogers, and Gwynne Andrews Funds; Pat and John Rosenwald, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, and Jon and Barbara Landau Gifts; Gift of Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family; and Victor Wilbour Memorial, Marquand, The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment, and Charles B. Curtis Funds, 2000 (2000.68)
    1280708
  • Beginning  |  1949  |  Max Beckmann (German)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967 (67.187.53a–c)  |  © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
    1216645
  • Rika Burnham
    1280852
  • I'm Rika Burnham, I'm a museum educator and my work is to teach in the galleries of museums.

  • I Iove teaching with the same work of art over and over again.

  • In the spirit of my approach to looking at works of art, I believe that I open the eyes of people I teach, but I

  • believe equally they open my eyes, as well.

  • I was looking at this with a group of high school students. We were noticing how the external garden and the interior space were governed by entirely different

  • perspectival systems. A student said, "You can't have perspective in a painting like this. Perspective is a scientific principle. What this artist did was he made room for the angels."

  • Pierre Bonnard, an artist very, very close to my heart but often misunderstood because when people look at his work they see these sunny, bucolic scenes. All of Bonnard's work for me changed when I took a class of students

  • to look at The Green Blouse. The woman sits against a shimmering yellow curtain and outside the window is probably the south of France. Suddenly a student saw

  • the woman who comes in at the left, holds a knife in such a way that it points to the woman in the green blouse. Everyone stopped. If we hadn't seen the knife, we wouldn't have understood the dark undertow of Bonnard's work that in the end is what makes it so interesting.

  • If there was ever a figure that manifested the force and severity of the Catholic church, this would be it. As I was looking with some students

  • at the little cartolino dropped at his feet, wondering why someone of such authority wouldn't notice this crumpled piece of paper. A student said, "His sumptuous robe is caught, and if he tries to get up he'll topple."

  • And the grandeur and the power of this portrait crumbles in front of us.

  • Manet courted with a kind of stylish, bad boy attitude, although compared to what we're used to now seemed kind of tame. What I think remains totally radical to this day was a visitor's observation, that Manet took a traditional device of painting to highlight the most important moment and he drenched the loin cloth of Christ in this bright, white light and I can't think of anything more transgressive.

  • Autumn Rhythm (#30), when you bring people to look at it they're astonished by its grandeur, its energy, its charge, but it has an undercurrent of suspicion at the same time. Is this really a work of art? It took a high school student one day to open my eyes to it by saying, "It's not a painting. It's a proposition."

  • This painting took a while for me to love, and yet if you look at it, its construction starts to work a kind of magic on you. In particular, Ludovico Carracci's use of color, it seems so restrained at first

  • but a student noticed the Virgin's hand that touches Christ's hand and said, "It's almost like the mother's trying to put the light of her life into the dead hand of his body.

  • And with her other hand, it's the opposite, because her hand there assumes the dead color of his face." This person said, "If you've ever lost someone, and held them as they were dying, this is exactly how you feel.

  • And at the same time you throw your head back from the physical sight, because the pain is so great."

  • At the heart of this endeavor is the question about interpretation. When does interpretation begin? When does interpretation end? When does interpretation go too far? I think the kind of teaching that I believe in is all about finding meaning

  • as a deep and affecting experience.

  • 1978.517
    The Penitent Magdalen, Georges de La Tour (French), Oil on canvas Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1978 (1978.517)
  • 56.70
    Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece), ca. 1427–1432, Workshop of Robert Campin (South Netherlandish), South Netherlands (modern Belgium), Tournai, Oil paint on oak The Cloisters Collection, 1956 (56.70)
  • 24.45.2
    Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man, 1655, Nicolas Poussin (French), Oil on canvas Marquand Fund, 1924 (24.45.2)
  • 17.190.7
    The Annunciation, Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden (possibly Hans Memling) (Netherlandish), Oil on wood Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.7)
  • 68.1
    The Terrace at Vernonnet, 1939, Pierre Bonnard (French), Oil on canvas Gift of Florence J. Gould, 1968 (68.1) © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
  • 63.64
    The Green Blouse, 1919, Pierre Bonnard (French), Oil on canvas The Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson Jr. Purchase Fund, 1963 (63.64) © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
  • 29.100.5
    Portrait of a Cardinal, Probably Cardinal Don Fernando Niño de Guevara (1541–1609), ca. 1600, El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek), Oil on canvas H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.5)
  • 29.100.51
    The Dead Christ with Angels, 1864, Èdouard Manet (French), Oil on canvas H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.51)
  • 57.92
    Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, Jackson Pollock (American), Enamel on canvas George A. Hearn Fund, 1957 (57.92) © 2011 Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • 2000.68
    The Lamentation, ca. 1582, Ludovico Carracci (Italian, Bolognese), Oil on canvas Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace and The Annenberg Foundation Gifts; Harris Brisbane Dick, Rogers, and Gwynne Andrews Funds; Pat and John Rosenwald, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, and Jon and Barbara Landau Gifts; Gift of Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family; and Victor Wilbour Memorial, Marquand, The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment, and Charles B. Curtis Funds, 2000 (2000.68)
  • 67.187.53a-c
    Beginning, 1949, Max Beckmann (German), Oil on canvas Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967 (67.187.53a–c) © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
  • The Penitent Magdalen, Georges de La Tour (French), Oil on canvas Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1978 (1978.517)
    Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece), ca. 1427–1432, Workshop of Robert Campin (South Netherlandish), South Netherlands (modern Belgium), Tournai, Oil paint on oak The Cloisters Collection, 1956 (56.70)
    Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man, 1655, Nicolas Poussin (French), Oil on canvas Marquand Fund, 1924 (24.45.2)
    The Annunciation, Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden (possibly Hans Memling) (Netherlandish), Oil on wood Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.7)
    The Terrace at Vernonnet, 1939, Pierre Bonnard (French), Oil on canvas Gift of Florence J. Gould, 1968 (68.1) © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
    The Green Blouse, 1919, Pierre Bonnard (French), Oil on canvas The Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson Jr. Purchase Fund, 1963 (63.64) © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
    Portrait of a Cardinal, Probably Cardinal Don Fernando Niño de Guevara (1541–1609), ca. 1600, El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek), Oil on canvas H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.5)
    The Dead Christ with Angels, 1864, Èdouard Manet (French), Oil on canvas H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.51)
    Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, Jackson Pollock (American), Enamel on canvas George A. Hearn Fund, 1957 (57.92) © 2011 Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    The Lamentation, ca. 1582, Ludovico Carracci (Italian, Bolognese), Oil on canvas Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace and The Annenberg Foundation Gifts; Harris Brisbane Dick, Rogers, and Gwynne Andrews Funds; Pat and John Rosenwald, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, and Jon and Barbara Landau Gifts; Gift of Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family; and Victor Wilbour Memorial, Marquand, The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment, and Charles B. Curtis Funds, 2000 (2000.68)
    Beginning, 1949, Max Beckmann (German), Oil on canvas Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967 (67.187.53a–c) © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    The Penitent Magdalen
    Georges de La Tour (French)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1978 (1978.517)
    On view: Gallery 617
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece)
    ca. 1427–1432
    Workshop of Robert Campin (South Netherlandish)
    South Netherlands (modern Belgium), Tournai
    Oil paint on oak
    The Cloisters Collection, 1956 (56.70)
    On view at The Cloisers: Gallery 019

    Medieval Art and The Cloisters
    The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park
    Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man
    1655
    Nicolas Poussin (French)
    Oil on canvas
    Marquand Fund, 1924 (24.45.2)
    On view: Gallery 617
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    The Annunciation
    Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden (possibly Hans Memling) (Netherlandish)
    Oil on wood
    Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.7)
    On view: Gallery 640
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    The Terrace at Vernonnet
    1939
    Pierre Bonnard (French)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of Florence J. Gould, 1968 (68.1)
    © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
    On view: Gallery 828
    Modern and Contemporary ArtSecond Floor
    The Green Blouse
    1919
    Pierre Bonnard (French)
    Oil on canvas
    The Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson Jr. Purchase Fund, 1963 (63.64)
    © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
    On view: Gallery 828
    Modern and Contemporary ArtSecond Floor
    Portrait of a Cardinal, Probably Cardinal Don Fernando Niño de Guevara (1541–1609)
    ca. 1600
    El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek)
    Oil on canvas
    H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.5)
    On view: Gallery 611
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    The Dead Christ with Angels
    1864
    Èdouard Manet (French)
    Oil on canvas
    H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.51)
    On view: Gallery 810
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)
    1950
    Jackson Pollock (American)
    Enamel on canvas
    George A. Hearn Fund, 1957 (57.92)
    © 2011 Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    On view: Gallery 921
    Modern and Contemporary ArtSecond Floor
    The Lamentation
    ca. 1582
    Ludovico Carracci (Italian, Bolognese)
    Oil on canvas
    Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace and The Annenberg Foundation Gifts; Harris Brisbane Dick, Rogers, and Gwynne Andrews Funds; Pat and John Rosenwald, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, and Jon and Barbara Landau Gifts; Gift of Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family; and Victor Wilbour Memorial, Marquand, The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment, and Charles B. Curtis Funds, 2000 (2000.68)
    On view: Gallery 601
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Beginning
    1949
    Max Beckmann (German)
    Oil on canvas
    Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967 (67.187.53a–c)
    © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
    On view: Gallery 902
    Modern and Contemporary ArtSecond Floor

    © 2011 The Metropolitan Museum of Art