For ten years, I was a docent at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. It was a rigorous program; first we docents-in-training had to take two semesters of Saturday morning classes, complete with mid-terms and finals. Once we’d passed our exams, they didn’t hand us tour scripts to memorize. Instead, we each had to select the pictures we’d include in our tours, get the list approved, and then research all the information for ourselves. The really hard part came when we had to present the tours we’d written to a member of the professional staff before getting cleared to talk to visitors.
I loved the research process. I’d spend hours reading and digging into archival records for the tasty tidbits that would make my tours interesting. Once I’d spent all that time on the pictures, and then talked about them on gallery tours, I began to feel proprietary about them. They were then – and still are in my mind – MY pictures.
So one of the thrills for me when I’m traveling is to run into one of my pictures on loan to another museum. It’s like seeing a friend from home.
Right now, the Louvre in Paris has a big show called Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice. And the signature picture used on all the posters and catalog covers is one of MY pictures, Titian’s Venus with a Mirror, painted in 1555. It’s rich with the reds, browns and golds Titian’s known for, and of course his luscious skin tones. Titian never sold this picture. It was such a favorite of his that he kept it in his studio till he died. (It’s a very fine painting, so it probably also helped sell potential clients on his skills.)
The show at the Louvre runs through January 4, so the Titian won’t be back home in Washington for a while. But it sure has made me happy to see it here.