Over the last year or so, Oberlin College’s Allen Memorial Art Museum has been undergoing renovations to its galleries, particularly in its 1912 Cass Gilbert-designed building. (The museum has set up a Tumblr with more information on the construction.) While the work has been ongoing, Oberlin has sent works from its collection around Ohio and the East Coast. The result hasn’t been so much a series of stand-alone shows, as integrations of Oberlin’s works into collection installations at their temporary host museums. AMAM works have been or will be installed at MOCA Cleveland, the Akron Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and now the Phillips Collection.
The no-doubt-about-it headliner at the Phillips is Hendrik ter Brugghen’s marvelous Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene (1625), a jaw-dropping example of a top Utrecht Carravaggisti at his toppest. But I found myself particularly engaged by a less-renowned work, Herri met de Bles’ Landscape with the Conversion of Saul on the Road to Damascus, from about 1545 .
While the met de Bles is installed at the Phillips, the Washington painting to which it’s most closely related is Tintoretto’s over-the-top treatment of the same subject from about the same year [above]. It’s at the National Gallery of Art. (Like most Tintorettos it scoffs at 300-pixel reductions.) The Tintoretto and the met de Bles are strikingly similar: The movement of Saul’s party through a landscape, the landscape itself and so on. They’re also entertainingly revelatory about differences: Met de Bles was a typically tonally and compositionally-restrained Flemish painter. Tintoretto was a Baroque stylist, a wild-man with brushes. It’s almost hard to believe their two paintings were made in the same year — and it’s great that a visit to one Washington museum now practically requires a visit to another.