Hi, I’m Curator Nat Silver. Here in the Short Gallery I’ll try to keep it ‘short’- but it’s a challenge because there are so many wonderful things here! You may have entered through any of the doorways, so to get oriented, move towards the window. As you’re approaching the window, look to the wall on your left. Near the ceiling is portrait of Isabella. She’s wearing a hat with a netted veil, and holding a book. This captures her passion for books, and reminds us that she collected books and manuscripts, before she began collecting paintings. There’s another portrait of her nearby—you can see it by turning directly around. That’s her in the painting, the woman wearing white, with her arms outstretched. Her friend, the artist Anders Zorn painted her in Venice. She’s wearing a tremendously long string of pearls, which was her signature piece of jewelry. Over her shoulder we see a flash of fireworks. She’s stepping back into the house, from a terrace overlooking the Grand Canal. She’s welcoming you into her world, her museum; which is a vision inspired by Venice. The painting just to the left, the man in profile, with a hat and cane, is a portrait of her husband Jack. Moving a bit to the right of the painting of Isabella, you’ll see a bookcase. These were her art history books. When it came to art, she was largely self-taught. Across the bottom shelf are volumes of ‘The Renaissance in Italy’.
Moving past the doorway, there’s a series of wooden panels. This is a treasure trove of drawings. Each panel is four layers deep. I want to show you one work in particular. Open the first panel on the left, next to the doorway. Within the first layer, on the left side, look at the work that’s second from the top. We see Mary supporting the dead body of Christ in her lap. It’s a magnificent image by... Michelangelo! For me, the details are so intensely moving, and so indicative of Michelangelo’s own intensely religious belief. He draws this moment after Christ’s death on the cross, with Mary looking up, as if asking ‘why?’ Above Mary’s head he writes a passage from Dante: “they do not know how much blood it costs.” It’s such a profound image of physical loss, and emotional suffering.
If you open the panels behind the Michelangelo you’ll find a cluster of works on paper by Matisse. Explore all the panels. Isabella designed them this way so that you can make your own discoveries. In 1990, the Gardner Museum was the site of a terrible theft. The thieves stole a number of drawings by the 19th century French artist Edgar Degas from these cases.