Virtuosity

Paintings conservator Michael Gallagher talks about the appeal of technical virtuosity.

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It's like a virtuoso musical performance where the ability to throw in that extra at the right moment turns the painting into poetry.

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  • Michael Gallagher
    1280852
  • Bust of Alexander Menshikov (ca. 1670–1729)  |  ca. 1703–4  |  Swiss, Austrian, or German artist (active Russia)  |  Red pine (pinus sylvestris), wrought iron  |  Wrightsman Fund, 1996 (1996.7)
    7271024
  • Krishna Killing the Horse Demon Keshi  |  Gupta period, 5th century  |  India (Uttar Pradesh)  |  Terracotta  |  Purchase, Florence and Herbert Irving Gift, 1991 (1991.300)
    8131024
  • Statuette of a veiled and masked dancer  |  3rd–2nd century b.c.; Hellenistic  |  Greek  |  Bronze  |  Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971 (1972.118.95)
    6611024
  • Statuette of a veiled and masked dancer  |  3rd–2nd century b.c.; Hellenistic  |  Greek  |  Bronze  |  Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971 (1972.118.95)
    5651024
  • Secretary  |  ca. 1776  |  Attributed to Martin Carlin (French)  |  Paris  |  Oak; tulipwood, purplewood, holly, and sycamore veneer; porcelain and tôle painted to imitate porcelain; gilt bronze  |  Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1976 (1976.155.110)
    10141024
  • Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau)  |  1883–84  |  John Singer Sargent (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53)
    5261024
  • Burgonet  |  1543  |  Made by Filippo Negroli  |  Italian (Milan)  |  Steel, embossed and damascened with gold  |  Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.1720)
    11261024
  • Burgonet  |  1543  |  Made by Filippo Negroli  |  Italian (Milan)  |  Steel, embossed and damascened with gold  |  Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.1720)
    1280942
  • Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio  |  15th century (ca. 1479–82)  |  Possibly designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (Italian, Sienese); Executed by Giuliano da Maiano (Italian)  |  Made in Gubbio, Italy  |  Walnut, beech, rosewood, oak, and fruitwoods on walnut base  |  Rogers Fund, 1939 (39.153)
    13441024
  • Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio  |  15th century (ca. 1479–82)  |  Possibly designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (Italian, Sienese); Executed by Giuliano da Maiano (Italian)  |  Made in Gubbio, Italy  |  Walnut, beech, rosewood, oak, and fruitwoods on walnut base  |  Rogers Fund, 1939 (39.153)
    8301024
  • Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio  |  15th century (ca. 1479–82)  |  Possibly designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (Italian, Sienese); Executed by Giuliano da Maiano (Italian)  |  Made in Gubbio, Italy  |  Walnut, beech, rosewood, oak, and fruitwoods on walnut base  |  Rogers Fund, 1939 (39.153)
    8271024
  • Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio  |  15th century (ca. 1479–82)  |  Possibly designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (Italian, Sienese); Executed by Giuliano da Maiano (Italian)  |  Made in Gubbio, Italy  |  Walnut, beech, rosewood, oak, and fruitwoods on walnut base  |  Rogers Fund, 1939 (39.153)
    8161024
  • Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio  |  15th century (ca. 1479–82)  |  Possibly designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (Italian, Sienese); Executed by Giuliano da Maiano (Italian)  |  Made in Gubbio, Italy  |  Walnut, beech, rosewood, oak, and fruitwoods on walnut base  |  Rogers Fund, 1939 (39.153)
    13571024
  • The Penitent Magdalen  |  ca. 1750  |  Corrado Giaquinto (Italian)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch Gift, in honor of Keith Christiansen, 2006 (2006.54)
    7831024
  • The Penitent Magdalen  |  ca. 1750  |  Corrado Giaquinto (Italian)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch Gift, in honor of Keith Christiansen, 2006 (2006.54)
    8571024
  • The Penitent Magdalen  |  ca. 1750  |  Corrado Giaquinto (Italian)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch Gift, in honor of Keith Christiansen, 2006 (2006.54)
    9521024
  • The Penitent Magdalen  |  ca. 1750  |  Corrado Giaquinto (Italian)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch Gift, in honor of Keith Christiansen, 2006 (2006.54)
    7831024
  • Fragment of the face of a queen  |  New Kingdom, Amarna Period, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353–1336 b.c.  |  Egypt, Middle Egypt, el-Amarna (Akhetaten); inc. el-Hagg Qandil  |  Yellow jasper  |  Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926 (26.7.1396)
    10961024
  • Female Dancer  |  Western Han dynasty, 2nd century b.c.  |  China  |  Earthenware with slip and pigments  |  Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1992 (1992.165.19)
    6991024
  • Female Dancer  |  Western Han dynasty, 2nd century b.c.  |  China  |  Earthenware with slip and pigments  |  Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1992 (1992.165.19)
    5771024
  • Head of a king  |  4th century; Sasanian period  |  Iran  |  Gilded silver  |  Fletcher Fund, 1965 (65.126)
    7831024
  • Portrait of a Man  |  ca. 1630  |  Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (Spanish)  |  Oil on canvas  |  The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.42)
    8071024
  • Portrait of a Man  |  ca. 1630  |  Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (Spanish)  |  Oil on canvas  |  The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.42)
    12691024
  • Portrait of a Man  |  ca. 1630  |  Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (Spanish)  |  Oil on canvas  |  The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.42)
    8071024
  • Michael Gallagher
    1280852
  • I'm Michael Gallagher. I'm in charge of painting conservation here at the Museum. What I'd like to talk about is virtuosity...

  • virtuosity being a display of skill, of brilliance. In acting, music, singing, sport

  • even, I've always been attracted to the people who can take something to another level.

  • I find great museums and art galleries almost as a type of theatre.

  • I don't like to think of them as treasure houses. I think if you go in with the right attitude, it is an interactive experience looking at an object.

  • There are examples where simple displays of skill become a little empty,

  • but sometimes, the celebration of the skill and its display takes the object to another level and is intrinsic to its meaning.

  • This helmet of the 16th century is intended to be a show piece. It wasn't what some soldier popped on to go off to war.

  • It's celebratory of his skills, it's also celebratory of a certain militarism. There's something wonderfully operatic about the whole thing.

  • For me, the Studiolo is particularly compelling. I think you are very aware that this is not just skillful decoration.

  • The warmth of the wood, the

  • wonderfully composed and naturalistic

  • niches full of objects and it's the amazing skill

  • in creating this naturalism in a highly artificial way. And you could have painted that room, but where would've been the fun in that, when could kill yourself creating it out of fruit woods.

  • This was one of the very first paintings I worked on when I came to the Museum. I find it incredibly beautiful. It does display a bravura technique.

  • It's not about naturalism. He would of had no problem describing the anatomy of a woman, but no one has a shoulder like that. And when you get in close

  • he uses this little tiny highlight on the nose and then the lip and then the chin and then there's a little set of swatches of pale pink on the cheek to describe the quality of light on the face. It's like a virtuoso musical performance

  • where the ability to throw in that extra at the right moment turns the painting into poetry.

  • I'm not alone in finding this one of my favorite objects. There's not much of it. It's very clearly and brutally a fragment and just being left with the lips, it's an impossibly sensual object. This uncompromising yellow and the skill of the sculptor working stone to this degree is utterly amazing.

  • The earthenware, Figure of a female dancer, through the skill of the artist, materials are transformed.

  • Even if you'd never seen representations of that form of dance, you would sense something courtly, slow, unbelievably elegant, and the contrast between simplicity of the material representing very, very simply but really quite magically, silk garments.

  • The head of a king from the 4th century Iran commands a sort of interaction. It speaks of kingship, of control, of something superhuman, and the skill in creating it makes it relevant today.

  • One of the great privileges of being a painting conservator is the intimacy that is a natural part of what we do. You have to look at it very closely as a work of art and to let it speak to you in those terms. This painting by Velázquez, it has an honesty that is really striking.

  • It's very much an interrogation. The sense of a slightly moist skin and there's a sort of vein running under the forehead. Because you have that extraordinary facility in the handling of paint it almost seems self-evident.

  • I think there has to be some connection beyond mere facility to take the object somewhere else in terms

  • of poetry and artistry.

  • 1996.7
    Bust of Alexander Menshikov (ca. 1670–1729), ca. 1703–4, Swiss, Austrian, or German artist (active Russia), Red pine (pinus sylvestris), wrought iron Wrightsman Fund, 1996 (1996.7)
  • 1991.300
    Krishna Killing the Horse Demon Keshi, Gupta period, 5th century, India (Uttar Pradesh), Terracotta Purchase, Florence and Herbert Irving Gift, 1991 (1991.300)
  • 1972.118.95
    Statuette of a veiled and masked dancer, 3rd–2nd century b.c.; Hellenistic, Greek, Bronze Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971 (1972.118.95)
  • 1976.155.110
    Secretary, ca. 1776, Attributed to Martin Carlin (French), Paris, Oak; tulipwood, purplewood, holly, and sycamore veneer; porcelain and tôle painted to imitate porcelain; gilt bronze Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1976 (1976.155.110)
  • 16.53
    Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–84, John Singer Sargent (American), Oil on canvas Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53)
  • 17.190.1720
    Burgonet, 1543, Made by Filippo Negroli, Italian (Milan), Steel, embossed and damascened with gold Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.1720)
  • 39.153_av1
    Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio, 15th century (ca. 1479–82), Possibly designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (Italian, Sienese); Executed by Giuliano da Maiano (Italian), Made in Gubbio, Italy, Walnut, beech, rosewood, oak, and fruitwoods on walnut base Rogers Fund, 1939 (39.153)
  • 2006.54
    The Penitent Magdalen, ca. 1750, Corrado Giaquinto (Italian), Oil on canvas Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch Gift, in honor of Keith Christiansen, 2006 (2006.54)
  • 26.7.1396
    Fragment of the face of a queen, New Kingdom, Amarna Period, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353–1336 b.c., Egypt, Middle Egypt, el-Amarna (Akhetaten); inc. el-Hagg Qandil, Yellow jasper Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926 (26.7.1396)
  • 1992.165.19
    Female Dancer, Western Han dynasty, 2nd century b.c., China, Earthenware with slip and pigments Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1992 (1992.165.19)
  • 65.126
    Head of a king, 4th century; Sasanian period, Iran, Gilded silver Fletcher Fund, 1965 (65.126)
  • 49.7.42
    Portrait of a Man, ca. 1630, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (Spanish), Oil on canvas The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.42)
  • Bust of Alexander Menshikov (ca. 1670–1729), ca. 1703–4, Swiss, Austrian, or German artist (active Russia), Red pine (pinus sylvestris), wrought iron Wrightsman Fund, 1996 (1996.7)
    Krishna Killing the Horse Demon Keshi, Gupta period, 5th century, India (Uttar Pradesh), Terracotta Purchase, Florence and Herbert Irving Gift, 1991 (1991.300)
    Statuette of a veiled and masked dancer, 3rd–2nd century b.c.; Hellenistic, Greek, Bronze Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971 (1972.118.95)
    Secretary, ca. 1776, Attributed to Martin Carlin (French), Paris, Oak; tulipwood, purplewood, holly, and sycamore veneer; porcelain and tôle painted to imitate porcelain; gilt bronze Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1976 (1976.155.110)
    Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–84, John Singer Sargent (American), Oil on canvas Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53)
    Burgonet, 1543, Made by Filippo Negroli, Italian (Milan), Steel, embossed and damascened with gold Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.1720)
    Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio, 15th century (ca. 1479–82), Possibly designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (Italian, Sienese); Executed by Giuliano da Maiano (Italian), Made in Gubbio, Italy, Walnut, beech, rosewood, oak, and fruitwoods on walnut base Rogers Fund, 1939 (39.153)
    The Penitent Magdalen, ca. 1750, Corrado Giaquinto (Italian), Oil on canvas Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch Gift, in honor of Keith Christiansen, 2006 (2006.54)
    Fragment of the face of a queen, New Kingdom, Amarna Period, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353–1336 b.c., Egypt, Middle Egypt, el-Amarna (Akhetaten); inc. el-Hagg Qandil, Yellow jasper Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926 (26.7.1396)
    Female Dancer, Western Han dynasty, 2nd century b.c., China, Earthenware with slip and pigments Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1992 (1992.165.19)
    Head of a king, 4th century; Sasanian period, Iran, Gilded silver Fletcher Fund, 1965 (65.126)
    Portrait of a Man, ca. 1630, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (Spanish), Oil on canvas The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.42)
    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.

    Bust of Alexander Menshikov (ca. 1670–1729)
    ca. 1703–4
    Swiss, Austrian, or German artist (active Russia)
    Red pine (pinus sylvestris), wrought iron
    Wrightsman Fund, 1996 (1996.7)
    On view: Gallery 551
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Krishna Killing the Horse Demon Keshi
    Gupta period, 5th century
    India (Uttar Pradesh)
    Terracotta
    Purchase, Florence and Herbert Irving Gift, 1991 (1991.300)
    On view: Gallery 235
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Statuette of a veiled and masked dancer
    3rd–2nd century b.c.; Hellenistic
    Greek
    Bronze
    Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971 (1972.118.95)
    On view: Gallery 163
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Secretary
    ca. 1776
    Attributed to Martin Carlin (French)
    Paris
    Oak; tulipwood, purplewood, holly, and sycamore veneer; porcelain and tôle painted to imitate porcelain; gilt bronze
    Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1976 (1976.155.110)
    On view: Gallery 529
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau)
    1883–84
    John Singer Sargent (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53)
    On view: Gallery 771
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Burgonet
    1543
    Made by Filippo Negroli
    Italian (Milan)
    Steel, embossed and damascened with gold
    Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.1720)
    On view: Gallery 374
    Arms and ArmorFirst Floor
    Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio
    15th century (ca. 1479–82)
    Possibly designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (Italian, Sienese); Executed by Giuliano da Maiano (Italian)
    Made in Gubbio, Italy
    Walnut, beech, rosewood, oak, and fruitwoods on walnut base
    Rogers Fund, 1939 (39.153)
    On view: Gallery 501
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    The Penitent Magdalen
    ca. 1750
    Corrado Giaquinto (Italian)
    Oil on canvas
    Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch Gift, in honor of Keith Christiansen, 2006 (2006.54)
    On view: Gallery 620
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Fragment of the face of a queen
    New Kingdom, Amarna Period, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353–1336 b.c.
    Egypt, Middle Egypt, el-Amarna (Akhetaten); inc. el-Hagg Qandil
    Yellow jasper
    Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926 (26.7.1396)
    On view: Gallery 121
    Egyptian ArtFirst Floor
    Female Dancer
    Western Han dynasty, 2nd century b.c.
    China
    Earthenware with slip and pigments
    Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1992 (1992.165.19)
    On view: Gallery 207
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Head of a king
    4th century; Sasanian period
    Iran
    Gilded silver
    Fletcher Fund, 1965 (65.126)
    On view: Gallery 405
    Ancient Near Eastern ArtSecond Floor
    Portrait of a Man
    ca. 1630
    Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (Spanish)
    Oil on canvas
    The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.42)
    On view: Gallery 610
    European PaintingsSecond Floor

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