I read with delight and a smidgen of wonder Sebastian Smee’s article on “Saint Francis Supported by an Angel” by Orazio Gentileschi, now placed for viewing at the MFA (“Comfort in the arms of an angel,” g, Sept. 18). One usually expects Smee to be rather piercing (no pun intended) in his observations of either classical or modern art. He is often too sharp if not dismissive in his opinions. Imagine my surprise to read Smee’s recent commentary on St. Francis in the ecstasy of the Stigmata. He is reverent, almost tender in his depiction of the painting, a piece purchased only two years ago. The Globe generously exhibits a reproduction of the painting, revealing some of the blush that appears in the Angel’s face and wings. The portrait of the saint’s swooning from divine love is not sneered at, mocked, nor caricatured, which so often happens today in certain circles if the object of attention has the word Christian before it: Christian art.
Smee is to be applauded for presenting the painting for what it is. There is no apology, simply appreciation, no agenda, simply beauty, no politics, simply an exquisite portrait of love and supernatural support. No arched brow, nor “knowing” look, nor curled lip, nor snide remark. In fact, in Smee’s last paragraph, the critic’s mask falls off, and the reader is permitted a peek into the critic’s soul. And for that privilege, this reader wishes to say thank you. Should I dare to say that St. Francis elicits the best from people?
My husband just retired from 35 years as a physician. One of the perks for me is that he reads at least three newspapers a day and sometimes shows me a gem of journalism I might otherwise have missed. This morning he walked into the room with “Comfort in the arms of an angel” and said, “You’ve got to read this — not only will it move you, but it will make you want to go back to the MFA and Assisi.”
We want to thank Sebastian Smee for his instructive and sensitive review of the painting — a lesson in art appreciation and art history never flowed so beautifully. We indeed feel St. Francis’s weight because of that sleeve, and his lower body does seem to come into our space. However, without Smee’s explanation of the levels of “identification” — ours with St. Francis and St. Francis’s with God — we would not have fully understood and appreciated the genius and beauty of the painting. Smee’s last paragraph, expressing the universality of experience and the need for “identification,” is so magnificently written, a work of art in itself, and another level of identification — each of us with each other. What a fitting tribute to the painting.
LINDA AND JOHN BENANTI
Please count me among Sebastian Smee’s many fans who find great pleasure and a wealth of discovery in his writing. The last paragraph of this morning’s piece on the Gentileschi has been torn out of the paper (yes, I still get hard copy, and love it!) and will be mounted on my office wall above the computer screen. I want my eyes to fall on it again and again.
The leg is beautiful, but more Brad Pitt’s than the celestial, rosy-cheeked angel. It is discordant but very interesting!
at New Rep
My wife and I had the pleasure of attending opening night of New Rep’s production of “The Kite Runner,” as well as a pre-play mixer and post-play gathering at the theater (“A powerful ‘Kite Runner’ at New Rep,” g, Sept. 13, Don Aucoin). Though we have regularly attended New Rep productions for 25 years, there was an electricity at the mixer that “The Kite Runner” would be special, which it was. What we experienced was an intense, gripping, and well-acted production. There were times when I was so drawn into the play that I could not move and others when I could not believe I was at New Rep; it was that good! When I expressed my reactions to Jim Petosa after the play, he said that is what he hoped for as New Rep “raises the bar.”
Aucoin’s well-written review perceptively captured the essence of the complex journey without giving anything away and the power, compassion, and gripping experience awaiting the theatergoer. It also accurately described the high quality of the acting, especially Nael Nacer, who made the journey heartfelt and real. Aucoin even picked up how well John Zdrojeski portrayed an especially evil thug, everyone’s worst nightmare. He gave readers a compelling and lucid review of an excellent play and production.
Hesitant to join ‘Revolution’
Read Matthew Gilbert’s column today about “Revolution” (“Dear J.J. Abrams: Some thoughts about ‘Revolution’,” g, Sept. 17). I hesitate to trust the big networks; they have a nasty habit of pulling the plug on shows I like. I’m still angry about “Flash Forward,” to name just one. So I don’t want to get involved with a show with an over-arcing plot only to have it canceled without closure.
Most of what I watch is on the cable networks and premium channels. They are a little less trigger-happy than NBC, CBS, and ABC. The exception to all this is “Person of Interest,” which is so good that I’m surprised that it is even on NBC and that they haven’t canceled it yet.
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