Botticelli and Matisse at the MFA

Botticelli and Matisse at the MFA

Sophie contemplates Botticelli’s Venus (not the famous one on the shell, but a version with a stark black background).
Children reflecting in the pool.

I’d been awaiting this day for a while. My friend Rachel was going to meet us at the museum and Dom took the day off so he could come too. We were going to see Botticelli and Matisse! Bella was thrilled, Sophie was intrigued, and the younger kids were resigned.

And then we almost didn’t make it to our museum outing. As we were driving suddenly we heard a loud thumping from under the car. Dom and I looked at each other as he pulled over. It sounded like a flat tire. At first the tires all looked fine and then I spotted a huge bolt sticking into the front passenger tire.

Boo. Hiss. The tire puncture that almost derailed us. The hissing from the escaping air was quite loud.

We were only a couple blocks from a tire place, fortunately hadn’t got on the highway yet, so we swung into the parking lot there, sure our fun day was over. As I got out of the car I could hear the loud hissing. And the guy behind the counter said it would probably be two to three hours. I messaged my friend Rachel who was supposed to meet us to let her know the situation.

Big girls waiting and worrying. Will we get to the museum?
Lucy probably had more fun at the tire shop than at the museum.

But miraculously they had out weird size tire in stock. The kids spent half an hour playing with the fun waiting room toys and then we were back on the road. We were only an hour later that we’d intended at the museum.

Banner and column at the Fenway Entrance.

Our mission for the day was twofold: to see the Botticelli exhibit with my friend Rachel and then, after lunch, to visit the Matisse. A full day, but both special exhibits were too good to pass up.

Botticelli and the Search for the Divine

Botticelli Madonna and Child.

The Botticellis were as lovely as expected. There were also some pieces by Lippi and another contemporary of Boticelli’s. The theme was Search for the Divine and the show highlighted both religious and secular pieces in two phases: Botticelli’s earlier pagan-inspired pieces Greek and Roman gods like Venus, Minerva, Cupid and Psyche, and the Judgement of Paris, and his later more devotional works: Christian saints, angels, and the Incarnate God. There was also a volume of the Divine Comedy that he’d illustrated.

The lovely Rachel and adorable Henry with Botticelli’s Minerva and the Centaur.
Bella’s sketch of Minerva and the Centaur.

I wasn’t able to read much of the accompanying text to get a sense of the thinking of the curators, but I appreciated the art as best I could. Looking at art with kids is, of course, different from looking at it alone. But as I attempt to guide them to find some connection with the art, I often find myself taking a new look, seeing something I wouldn’t otherwise have seen, making connections and paying attention to details. I would have loved to sit and sketch as Bella did, but today was not a day when that worked out for me.

Botticelli crucifix.

Still, Venus was as lovely as expected and I discovered many new pieces I hadn’t seen before. I had fun with Anthony and Sophie identifying characters from Greek and Roman myths. We’d just read about Cupid and Psyche, so Botticelli’s painting was intriguing. As was the Judgement of Paris.

Botticelli Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist. I love the sweet embrace of the two cousins, especially the cheeks smashed together and the placement of their hands so tenderly on each other’s heads. Mary looks so very serene as she dangles Jesus where he can reach John.
Madonna and Child with John the Baptist. Possibly my favorite Botticelli. I love the wide-eyed baby Jesus and how adoringly he gazes at his mother. And John almost smirking in the background.

But my favorite might have been two images of the Madonna and child with St John the Baptist. In one an infant Jesus leans out of Mary’s arms to embrace his older cousin. Both boys press their faces together and grab each others’ heads in a most tender way. It is a sweetly human moment. In the other a wide-eyed, blue-eyed Jesus perches on Mary’s lap while John smirks in the background. Mary bows her head in adoration, but the baby gazes up into her face with his own adoring look. The details of the vase and textiles were gorgeous, but it is Jesus’s sweet face that will haunt me.

Botticelli St Augustine.

I wish I’d had more time for St Augustine, for Minerva and the Centaur, and for several other pictures which I was only able to glance at. Never enough time. I did pause for a while at the death mask of Lorenzo the Magnificent. What a truly fascinating face. Even in death it has such amazing character and presence: a strong jaw, heavy brows, a prominent nose, and a mouth that seems quite firm and decided.

Death mask of Lorenzo “The Magnificent” Medici.
St Michael, not by Botticelli but by a contemporary whose name I’ve forgotten.

All too soon it was time to head to the cafeteria for lunch. We had a jolly repast, enjoying fellowship with Rachel and her 2 year old son, Henry. After lunch the kids ran around in the courtyard for a while and then Rachel and Henry headed home and we headed towards the Matisse.

Matisse in the Studio

By that time Anthony and Lucy were pretty done, but we still managed to enjoy most of the exhibit. Bella tagged along with a tour group and heard most of the docent’s talks. Sophie and I spent a lot of time looking at paintings and objects. The theme was In the Studio and paintings were paired with objects and furniture from Matisse’s studio as well as some photos of the artist in his studio. We had fun seeing where a statue or vase or pot appeared in multiple pieces and even more so in getting to see the actual vase or statue or pot. Sophie really liked the hunt the item aspect of the show and continues her streak of liking modern artists. She was also a big fan of Picasso. She’s very perceptive and it’s fun to talk art with her. Ben and Anthony managed to find a few pieces to connect with but are still in the “museums are kind of boring” camp. Still, they’re good sports and don’t complain too much. As with the Botticelli, there was a lot going on in this exhibit that I wasn’t able to slow down and savor as much as I’d have liked, but I did very much enjoy it despite feeling a bit rushed.

Sophie and Ben admire a Matisse painting.
An ewer from Matisse’s studio. Can you find it in various paintings?
Matisse’s green vase. We found this in several paintings too.
Sophie exploring Matisse’s sculptures and paintings.
Matisse sculpture and painting.
Two girls sculpture.
This painting is so vibrant. I love all the colors and patterns. Sophie recognized the vase and the table, which were both on display in the same room.
Matisse painting: note the ewer and table. Seen them before?
This Matisse feels much more impressionist to me. The textile that appears on the window behind the girls is hanging next to the painting, though in the painting it looks much more blue.
Sophie with a Moroccan window hanging that belonged to Matisse.
Moroccan hanging and Matisse painting.
African textiles.
I love how Matisse has the background of this painting wrap over the girl’s shoulder.
Sophie admiring Matisse’s goldfish. There was a docent leading a tour who said the goldfish were from Matisse’s stay in North Africa.
Matisse woman with coffee. The table the coffee is sitting on was in the gallery next to the painting.
Matisse The Etruscan Vase.
This was Sophie’s favorite Matisse. She loves the bold irregular zigzag lines.
Sophie the art critic.
Matisse’s chair.
Matisse sketches of the chair.
Matisse paper cutouts which inspired out own art projects.
Bella with Matisse.

After a brief stop in the gift shop to buy some Matisse postcards for the kids’ collections, we went to revisit the Make Way for Ducklings exhibit of Robert McCloskey’s art, which we had seen but Dom had not. Dom really enjoyed it and the kids mostly looked at picture books, but did also take a look at some of the drawings and paintings.

That was about the limit of everyone’s attention and so after that we headed home.

On the whole I like Botticelli better, I think; but Matisse is the artist who makes me want to create. I want to get out scissors and colored paper to make my own cutouts. I left the museum burning to make arrangements of vases and textiles and fruit to draw with bright colors.

Reflecting pool with Bettinelli children.
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  • Swoon! What fab exhibits! Thanks so much for taking us with you. I love this method of curation- having the originals alongside the paintings. I once visited a Monet exhibition where the actual dresses, shoes, umbrellas etc in the paintings were there on mannequins beside the pictures.

    • I agree. I’m coming to love this kind of exhibit. It’s especially wonderful for children who often need help in learning how to engage with paintings. The Monet exhibition sounds delightful.

  • I heard about this tour and was disappointed it wasn’t coming to the Midwest. Thank you for posting your pictures and comments about it! If I can’t see it this is second best.