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Who Doesn’t Adore Magi?

May 22, 2012

The UVA Art Museum’s special exhibit of the Adoration of the Magi by Bartolo di Fredi closes after next Sunday, May 27th. They say it is a “major masterpiece of the Sienese Trecento”. The exhibit brings together all the surviving parts of this altarpiece, along with a couple of other items from the era. UVA has the good fortune to own the smallest of the altarpiece components — really quite unimpressive by itself — and so was able to get the chance to host the whole for three months. It should not be missed. We do not usually get to see this sort of thing in Charlottesville — so old, so religious, and so golden. Mostly we just look at photographs or silent young performance artists sitting at typewriters, and we love that shit, but another satisfaction entirely is given by an object imbued with such aura as this, time-varnished and resonant of ancient devotion and forgotten craft. It is over three times as old as Thomas Jefferson’s bones*, which aren’t even on display and probably wouldn’t be much to look at if they were. It is beautiful with a beauty that is no longer made by men and never was in this country. And it has a charming little beastie at the bottom.

Visiting the exhibit I was also reminded that Hey, we have a local art museum! — something too easy to forget. It is a modest establishment, but very much worth slipping into by from time to time. From the heavy Seventies vibe of the entrance hall to the curio jumble of the upstairs vault, the museum has plenty to see for those who look. It is also uncrowded (when not deserted), free of charge, and refreshingly cool in the summer months.

*Counting from their completion and revelation, i.e. his death.

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