Cambridge, May 25, 2013
This is not serious.
Beginning to study Mies's urban projects, a casual look at images of the early massing models for the IIT Campus reminded me of a table at the Gardner Museum that I've always loved.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is one of my very favorite museums. For many reasons: its small size, the uniqueness of some of its pieces (like the exquisite little portrait of an Ottoman scribe by Gentile Bellini,) its Venetian courtyard with the façades of the Palazzi Barbaro turned inside out, the parallel corridors...
In one of the rooms on the top floor there is a large rectangular table with about a dozen small object, mostly reliquaries or other elaborately decorated metal, wood and leather boxes, at least one thick book and various large keys or hardware pieces. Several of the boxes have gabled tops so its not difficult to think of the objects as building models. Following that train of thought, the whole table can be seen as an exercise in urban design.
The objects are carefully deployed in alternating groups of two and three along the length of the table. If you look at the composition as a scale model, the buildings are framing carefully layered open spaces of different scales, some central, others peripheral. The middle of the table is dominated by a large, elongated box, as if it were the emperor's palace of some Chinese forbidden city. At one end there is a taller square box that could be Jefferson's Rotunda at the University of Virginia. Or is the large book at the other end of the table too obvious a programmatic clue for the place of the library?
And--why not?--from the corner, Sargent's portrait of Isabella looks over as the patron saint of this unlikely city.
(For years I've been fantasizing about giving this table as a starting point for a studio.)