Friday Reads: Eye of the Beholder

Friday Reads: Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Edited by Alan Chong, Richard Linger and Carl Zahn

One of the great treasures of the city of Boston with its many colleges and universities is the number of museums in the metropolitan Boston area. From the majestic Museum of Fine Arts to the eclectic Institute of Contemporary Art on the waterfront, the city is brimming with art and sculpture. My personal favorite is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the Back Bay/Fenway section of the city. Originally the home of Mrs. Jack, as Isabella was sometimes called, the museum is the very picture of a Venetian palazzo.  After inheriting a sizable fortune from her father, she went on to become a world class collector.

“Isabella Stewart Gardner collected and carefully displayed a collection comprised of more than 15,000 objects-paintings, sculpture, furniture, textiles, drawings, silver, ceramics, illuminated manuscripts, rare books, photographs, and letters-from ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, Renaissance Italy, Asia, the Islamic world and 19th-century France and America.

The palazzo at Fenway became a salon where “artists and thinkers gathered at Fenway Court around works by Giotto, Fra Angelico, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, and Vermeer.”

In addition to a very comprehensive art education, this book would serve as a wonderful guide as you roam through the collections in this marvelous building.

Have you ever been really impressed by a painting? One that you can remember the art but not the artist? There is a painting at the museum of a young boy with haunting eyes, an image that has stayed with me for a long time. I remembered it was in the Blue Room as you first entered the museum on the left.

“The Blue Room is a gallery brimming with objects that reflect Gardner’s personal relationships. In the early days of the Museum the Blue Room welcomed concert goers, serving as the ladies’ reception area. It displays the work of artists in Gardner’s closest circle of friends. With its low ceilings, fabric covered walls, and well-lit alcoves showcasing paintings, furniture, books, and cases, the Blue Room invites visitors to explore the collection at close range and in an intimate space.” – from the museum’s website.

While browsing through Eye of the Beholder, I was delighted to find on page 217, “The Standard Bearer of the Harvest Festival” by Antonio Mancini, the very painting of the boy with the haunting eyes and angelic face!


Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner from Antonio Mancini for 1,000 francs in 1884, with the assistance of the American painter and collector Ralph W. Curtis (1854-1922).


Signed (?) with red crayon (lower right): A Mancini Roma
Undated label (on back of frame) with Isabella Stewart Gardner’s address at 152 Beacon Street, Boston.

I do hope that viewing the masterpieces in Eye of the Beholder will entice you to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in person. As an extra incentive, the Falmouth Public library offers reduced admission passes to the museum. You can request the passes online here.

Please note: The Museum is closed on Tuesdays.

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