Saturday, December 16, 2017

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Marples: An eye-opening exhibit worth the trip

By James A. Marples
Nov. 24, 2017 at 11:02 p.m.

I often read stories in the News-Journal dealing with promoting the arts our city is so well known for — and is blessed with the Longview Museum of Fine Arts.

However, I recently saw an exhibition that is extraordinary in that it was a teaching moment. It came to the United States with such historical worthiness that it makes for a fun day trip to see something special and get a contemporaneous view of history, instead of a sugar-coated one.

I saw this exhibit when I drove my cousin Carole Marples to Fort Worth and back. The exhibit had old items from Venice, Paris, Prague, London and borrowed paintings and settings on loan from Harvard University and the National Gallery.

It is the history exhibit on "Casanova — The Seduction of Europe" at the Kimbell Museum of Art in Fort Worth through Dec. 31. It is remarkable that one exhibit remains so long in one venue. Next, it will go to San Francisco, then to Baltimore and thence, disband — with many paintings going back to Europe.

In school, my classmates and I heard the stereotypes of Casanova. However, much has been embellished and exaggerated about him. In my university days, I researched Giacomo (James) Casanova more thoroughly. Most people are unaware that the man studied to enter the Catholic priesthood. Pope Clement XIII bestowed the Vatican award of "the Golden Spur" on Casanova. He did have his romantic dalliances with women (even two nuns), which caused his exit from clerical duties. He received a law degree and became a gambler, a spy — yet, he had a good side too. Casanova became a philosopher, a diplomat, a Freemason and a Rosicrucian. According to our tour guide, Casanova even saved the life of a senator in Venice.

At the exhibit, we were provided free audio devices to hear narratives as a self-guided tour as well as the option of partaking of a commentator as on-site tour-guide. The exhibits were impressive: fine sterling silver settings of angels representing "Youth," another angel holding a sickle representing "Mortality," along with a glass case 1700s violin.

The paintings were exquisite, including one of Benjamin Franklin, who discussed hot air balloons with Casanova. He later attended a symposium, presented by Franklin, on the same subject in Paris. I asked the tour guide: "Ma'am, did I hear you right — Benjamin Franklin discussed hot air ballooning with Casanova in Paris?" It almost sounds like East Texas with its hot air balloon fare, except predating us by two and a half centuries.

The art was fabulous. It was genuine art I could relate to; classics, priceless. It was art that all spectators knew what was depicted — without wondering whether a painting was right-side up or upside down. Although the 1700s artists depicted their share of female nudes — the exhibit was tasteful.

Casanova may have been somewhat of a ladies man — yet women were drawn to him. And, as our tour-guide noted, Casanova often left the women "in better shape emotionally and financially" than when he wooed them.

I have only a couple of booklets I purchased years ago on Giacomo Casanova. I make it my own rule of thumb to never buy a book about Casanova unless it is nonfiction and printed before the year 1930. Modern writers distort him. I didn't even see the 2005 movie "Casanova," since it was hyped to sell movie tickets.

One interesting thing, during Lent in Venice, a custom was started in the year 1168 of men and women wearing masks. At first thought, a person thinks of Mardi Gras masks, which is partially true. However, the Casanova exhibit taught that the Venetian custom in the 1750s was that masks (primarily worn by women) weren't to hide an identity but rather to hide a social class the woman came from.

Visitors to the exhibit got a realistic impression they were walking into 18th century Venice or Dresden or Paris. It had a glamorous appeal. One of my favorite oil on canvas paintings was "The Alchemists," painted in 1752 by Pietro Longhi.

I already knew quite a bit about Casanova, but I learned a whole lot more by this exhibit and enjoyed it. I recommend it to anyone in the Longview area as a must do on their bucket list or to-do list. Such an opportunity may not pass this close to Longview again.

— James A. Marples, a Longview resident, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum.



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