Weekend Agenda

Now showing at the National Gallery:
The sacred made real: Spanish painting and culture 1600-1700.

Mary Eberstadt offers an enthusiastic review.
To the surprise of no one who has seen it, “The Sacred Made Real” has been celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic since its first appearance in London in 2009. Secular sources acclaiming the show include among many more the Washington Post, whose reviewer Blake Gopnik suggested that it might “turn out to have been one of the most substantial, important events our Washington museum has hosted.”
She also ponders the meaning of the exhibit's run-away popularity, since the art is unabashedly Catholic.
the runaway success of “The Sacred Made Real” in London took even its organizers by surprise – including self-described agnostic Xavier Bray, the assistant curator who made it happen. Secular or not, the British and American publics have more than vindicated Bray’s aesthetic judgment. In cosmopolitan post-everything London, fully four times more people turned out to see this show than even he anticipated.
Such public enthusiasm for unapologetically, fervently, thoroughly Catholic art in the far-off country of Spain four centuries ago is worth pondering for a moment – all the more so since it comes at a time when the Church’s standing in the secular world hovers near an all-time low.
Update: If you're downtown on Memorial Day, stop in and see the exhibit on its closing day. It's well worth it. I enjoyed the paintings more than the polychrome sculptures, which are freakishly life-like --foreshadowings of Madam Tussaud. It's kind of cool to feel you're looking St. Ignatius right in the eye, but I'm not sure it's an artistic experience precisely, even if there is undeniable artistry in painting wood to look so lifelike.
Surprises: Mr. W. & I both noted the forceful manliness of the figures of Ignatius and St. Francis Borgia. So often in religious art the figure is so spiritualized as to be almost a wraith.  And although, as in this Ecce Homo, the figures are made hyper-real so as to provoke an outpouring of love and emotion, we were surprised that "Spanish realism" was not anything like so gory as we'd expected. Mr. W's favorite piece was the Ecce Homo linked above; mine a painting of a crucifix by Zubaran. With a black background, hung in an alcove, it seems like a sculpture.