Why Everyone Should See the Della Robbia Exhibit at the National Gallery

These days, media alerts and anger overwhelm our lives. We’re all swimming in the constant noise of distrust, disunity and distaste. All sides seem to be constantly trying to “out ugly” the others.

But I recently experienced a wave of beauty that seemed to wash it all away in a single hour.  The Della Robbia exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. is well worth your time, if you’re looking for a little beauty in a world that has forgotten it.

Yes, I’m an art history nerd, but I’m usually stirred by the passionate angst of Michelangelo, the desperate loneliness of Van Gogh, or the strange obsessiveness of Gaudi. Usually, I’m obsessed with meaning, historical context, emotional context…

Simple, clear beauty? Not usually my style.

But this stunning exhibit forced me to stop and just enjoy things of spectacular beauty.

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Let’s start with The Visitation, Luca della Robbia’s masterpiece in the round, on view outside of Italy for the first time (this exhibition started at the MFA in Boston before it moved to DC). The luminous white against its blue background surrounded by the gray stone of the museum. You don’t need to know anything about the artist, the characters, or the story to know that it’s quiet. Cool. Lovely.

The Della Robbia family is known for sculpting in color: crisp white, bright blues, greens, and yellows. When you’re in Italy, you can spot a Della Robbia from across a square, just from the colors. And I’ve always found them pretty, but here, together, room after room, the beauty was… soul lifting.

For the last six months, I’ve been working on and off in Washington, D.C., consulting a legal nonprofit on communications and media relations. While in our nation’s capital last week, I noticed a distinct feeling of exhaustion and sadness on the metro every morning and afternoon. People looked like they’d been through a rough winter — although I know DC hasn’t had a particularly hard snow season.

As I walked through that Della Robbia exhibit, everyone seemed to exhale. People looked up and smiled. I held eye contact with strangers a second longer than usual as we silently acknowledged this shared beauty. And I couldn’t help but think that if every person in DC stopped by the National Gallery before commuting home, there wouldn’t be quite so much sadness and exhaustion on the train.

No matter which side of the political spectrum on which you fall, you have to admit we all need a little more love in our lives. We need to drop our opposition and come together — perhaps over something as simple as a quiet setting filled with pretty colors… and beauty.

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Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence
On now through June 4, 2017

 

 

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