Intimacy

Paintings conservator George Bisacca contemplates the little details that create a feeling of familiarity in a work of art.

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You can see the kind of effort that it costs her to do very simple things in her life. It immortalizes, in a way, the human condition.

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  • George Bisacca
    1280852
  • Carved amber bow of a fibula (safety pin)  |  ca. 500 b.c.; Archaic or Classical  |  Etruscan  |  Amber  |  Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.2067)
    1280906
  • Carved amber bow of a fibula (safety pin)  |  ca. 500 b.c.; Archaic or Classical  |  Etruscan  |  Amber  |  Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.2067)
    9151024
  • Carved amber bow of a fibula (safety pin)  |  ca. 500 b.c.; Archaic or Classical  |  Etruscan  |  Amber  |  Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.2067)
    1280945
  • Marble statue of Aphrodite, the so-called Venus Genetrix  |  1st–2nd century a.d.; Imperial copy of Classical original  |  Adaptation of work attributed to Kallimachos  |  Roman copy of Greek original  |  Marble  |  Purchase, 1932 (32.11.3)
    6181024
  • Head of Balzac  |  1891  |  Auguste Rodin (French)  |  Terracotta  |  Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.11.1)
    9071024
  • Head of Balzac  |  1891  |  Auguste Rodin (French)  |  Terracotta  |  Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.11.1)
    1280803
  • Head of Balzac  |  1891  |  Auguste Rodin (French)  |  Terracotta  |  Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.11.1)
    12801002
  • Head of Balzac  |  1891  |  Auguste Rodin (French)  |  Terracotta  |  Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.11.1)
    9071024
  • Statue of an old market woman  |  1st century a.d.; Early Imperial, Julio-Claudian  |  Roman  |  Marble  |  Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.39)
    8141024
  • Statue of an old market woman  |  1st century a.d.; Early Imperial, Julio-Claudian  |  Roman  |  Marble  |  Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.39)
    12801016
  • Statuette of a philosopher on a lamp stand  |  late 1st century b.c.; Early Imperial, Augustan  |  Roman  |  Bronze  |  Rogers Fund, 1910 (10.231.1)
    9791024
  • Statuette of a philosopher on a lamp stand  |  late 1st century b.c.; Early Imperial, Augustan  |  Roman  |  Bronze  |  Rogers Fund, 1910 (10.231.1)
    5551024
  • Terracotta Figure of Isis-Aphrodite  |  Roman period, 2nd–3rd century  |  Egyptian  |  Alluvial clay; brown, black, red, and pink paint on white englobe  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1991 (1991.76)
    4461024
  • Terracotta Figure of Isis-Aphrodite  |  Roman period, 2nd–3rd century  |  Egyptian  |  Alluvial clay; brown, black, red, and pink paint on white englobe  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1991 (1991.76)
    11731024
  • Terracotta Figure of Isis-Aphrodite  |  Roman period, 2nd–3rd century  |  Egyptian  |  Alluvial clay; brown, black, red, and pink paint on white englobe  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1991 (1991.76)
    1280993
  • Terracotta Figure of Isis-Aphrodite  |  Roman period, 2nd–3rd century  |  Egyptian  |  Alluvial clay; brown, black, red, and pink paint on white englobe  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1991 (1991.76)
    10981024
  • Terracotta Figure of Isis-Aphrodite  |  Roman period, 2nd–3rd century  |  Egyptian  |  Alluvial clay; brown, black, red, and pink paint on white englobe  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1991 (1991.76)
    8941024
  • Terracotta Figure of Isis-Aphrodite  |  Roman period, 2nd–3rd century  |  Egyptian  |  Alluvial clay; brown, black, red, and pink paint on white englobe  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1991 (1991.76)
    4461024
  • Madonna and Child with Angels  |  15th century (ca. 1455–60)  |  Antonio Rossellino (Italian)  |  Made in Florence, Italy  |  Marble, gilding on halo and dress  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.675)
    8181024
  • Madonna and Child with Angels  |  15th century (ca. 1455–60)  |  Antonio Rossellino (Italian)  |  Made in Florence, Italy  |  Marble, gilding on halo and dress  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.675)
    5651024
  • Madonna and Child with Angels  |  15th century (ca. 1455–60)  |  Antonio Rossellino (Italian)  |  Made in Florence, Italy  |  Marble, gilding on halo and dress  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.675)
    1280921
  • Madonna and Child with Angels  |  15th century (ca. 1455–60)  |  Antonio Rossellino (Italian)  |  Made in Florence, Italy  |  Marble, gilding on halo and dress  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.675)
    10241024
  • A Maid Asleep  |  ca. 1656–57  |  Johannes Vermeer (Dutch)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.611)
    8851024
  • X-radiograph  |  A Maid Asleep  |  ca. 1656–57  |  Johannes Vermeer (Dutch)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.611)
    8981024
  • A Maid Asleep  |  ca. 1656–57  |  Johannes Vermeer (Dutch)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.611)
    8851024
  • Statue of an old market woman  |  1st century a.d.; Early Imperial, Julio-Claudian  |  Roman  |  Marble  |  Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.39)
    1075796
  • Madonna and Child with Angels  |  15th century (ca. 1455–60)  |  Antonio Rossellino (Italian)  |  Made in Florence, Italy  |  Marble, gilding on halo and dress  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.675)
    9871024
  • Statuette of a philosopher on a lamp stand  |  late 1st century b.c.; Early Imperial, Augustan  |  Roman  |  Bronze  |  Rogers Fund, 1910 (10.231.1)
    1129909
  • George Bisacca
    1280852
  • My name is George Bisacca and I'm a conservator in the paintings conservation department and my topic is "Intimacy."

  • As a conservator you think very much about the artist making the object, and you understand that the artist has observed, and then

  • captured in the material, some aspect that is intimate, and by that I mean it connects all of us

  • personally to the artwork. It brings it onto our human scale.

  • There certainly is this almost shocking realization that this block of stone is so like a human body that it becomes very intimate. The fabric seems to be transparent over her flesh, and the cock of the hip on the right side, you can understand the whole bone structure, and it's just so incredibly real.

  • Terracotta is a much more intimate form, it contains all of the evidence of the sculptor's working, the way that he's just casually taken

  • a wire tool and pressed in for the eyebrows and the mustache and the

  • hairs under his lip. And also you can see those little bits of clay that he's rolled between two fingers and stuck on.

  • Every nuance of musculature is described there and it almost lives, this thing.

  • Normally when we think of classical sculpture, we think of these heroic poses and gestures, and here instead, they've captured just an old woman, so that you see the

  • sagging skin on her neck, with her mouth open. You can see the kind of effort that it costs her to do very simple things in her life. It immortalizes, in a way, the human condition.

  • This philosopher—the intensity of the face. He's occupied with his mind. But there's this wonderful kind of nonchalance about the way that he has his garment draped over himself

  • exposing his belly from a little too much eating and drinking. He looks like a lot of older people you might see at the beach.

  • There's something so endearing about this little statue of Isis. Even though she's supposed to be a goddess

  • she has this enormous headdress on—she doesn't really quite seem up to the job.

  • Her arms are so tight at her sides and she keeps

  • her legs so carefully together, she seems a little

  • embarrassed about her nakedness. Being the goddess of fertility

  • of course, she has those big hips that I think she's a little nervous about. And I just find it such a beautiful rendering of an insecure woman.

  • Aspects of this Madonna and Child transform it into any mother and any real child. This nervous energy that the child has, he's

  • digging in his heel, pushing backward against his mother's chest. She reaches her hand over

  • and holds both of his legs so he doesn't just squirm right off of her lap.

  • She's aware of her son's future suffering and death, and that's all contained in her face, this sadness, I find incredibly intimate.

  • I feel voyeuristic intruding on a very private moment, looking at this young girl falling asleep on her hand in the late afternoon light. Something has clearly just taken place. That chair on the right is turned the wrong way around from the table; there's a glass tipped over; the door is open. Certainly a man has been there. When we x-rayed

  • this picture, we discovered that in that open doorway, there's a man walking towards the room. Vermeer has edited that out. I think he realizes that that would have been jarring in the scene

  • which is otherwise so solitary and so quiet.

  • These works point to simple human qualities

  • that all people share—that everyone, no matter how

  • they're immortalized in a great work of art, they were

  • still a simple person, just like anyone else.

  • 17.190.2067
    Carved amber bow of a fibula (safety pin), ca. 500 b.c.; Archaic or Classical, Etruscan, Amber Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.2067)
  • 32.11.3
    Marble statue of Aphrodite, the so-called Venus Genetrix, 1st–2nd century a.d.; Imperial copy of Classical original, Adaptation of work attributed to Kallimachos, Roman copy of Greek original, Marble Purchase, 1932 (32.11.3)
  • 12.11.1
    Head of Balzac, 1891, Auguste Rodin (French), Terracotta Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.11.1)
  • 09.39
    Statue of an old market woman, 1st century a.d.; Early Imperial, Julio-Claudian, Roman, Marble Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.39)
  • 10.231.1
    Statuette of a philosopher on a lamp stand, late 1st century b.c.; Early Imperial, Augustan, Roman, Bronze Rogers Fund, 1910 (10.231.1)
  • 1991.76
    Terracotta Figure of Isis-Aphrodite, Roman period, 2nd–3rd century, Egyptian, Alluvial clay; brown, black, red, and pink paint on white englobe Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1991 (1991.76)
  • 14.40.675
    Madonna and Child with Angels, 15th century (ca. 1455–60), Antonio Rossellino (Italian), Made in Florence, Italy, Marble, gilding on halo and dress Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.675)
  • 14.40.611
    A Maid Asleep, ca. 1656–57, Johannes Vermeer (Dutch), Oil on canvas Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.611)
  • Carved amber bow of a fibula (safety pin), ca. 500 b.c.; Archaic or Classical, Etruscan, Amber Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.2067)
    Marble statue of Aphrodite, the so-called Venus Genetrix, 1st–2nd century a.d.; Imperial copy of Classical original, Adaptation of work attributed to Kallimachos, Roman copy of Greek original, Marble Purchase, 1932 (32.11.3)
    Head of Balzac, 1891, Auguste Rodin (French), Terracotta Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.11.1)
    Statue of an old market woman, 1st century a.d.; Early Imperial, Julio-Claudian, Roman, Marble Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.39)
    Statuette of a philosopher on a lamp stand, late 1st century b.c.; Early Imperial, Augustan, Roman, Bronze Rogers Fund, 1910 (10.231.1)
    Terracotta Figure of Isis-Aphrodite, Roman period, 2nd–3rd century, Egyptian, Alluvial clay; brown, black, red, and pink paint on white englobe Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1991 (1991.76)
    Madonna and Child with Angels, 15th century (ca. 1455–60), Antonio Rossellino (Italian), Made in Florence, Italy, Marble, gilding on halo and dress Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.675)
    A Maid Asleep, ca. 1656–57, Johannes Vermeer (Dutch), Oil on canvas Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.611)
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    Carved amber bow of a fibula (safety pin)
    ca. 500 b.c.; Archaic or Classical
    Etruscan
    Amber
    Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.2067)
    On view: Gallery 170
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Marble statue of Aphrodite, the so-called Venus Genetrix
    1st–2nd century a.d.; Imperial copy of Classical original
    Adaptation of work attributed to Kallimachos
    Roman copy of Greek original
    Marble
    Purchase, 1932 (32.11.3)
    On view: Gallery 153
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Head of Balzac
    1891
    Auguste Rodin (French)
    Terracotta
    Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.11.1)
    On view: Gallery 800
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    Statue of an old market woman
    1st century a.d.; Early Imperial, Julio-Claudian
    Roman
    Marble
    Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.39)
    On view: Gallery 162
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Statuette of a philosopher on a lamp stand
    late 1st century b.c.; Early Imperial, Augustan
    Roman
    Bronze
    Rogers Fund, 1910 (10.231.1)
    On view: Gallery 162
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Terracotta Figure of Isis-Aphrodite
    Roman period, 2nd–3rd century
    Egyptian
    Alluvial clay; brown, black, red, and pink paint on white englobe
    Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1991 (1991.76)
    On view: Gallery 138
    Egyptian ArtFirst Floor
    Madonna and Child with Angels
    15th century (ca. 1455–60)
    Antonio Rossellino (Italian)
    Made in Florence, Italy
    Marble, gilding on halo and dress
    Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.675)
    On view: Gallery 605
    European Sculpture and Decorative ArtsFirst Floor
    A Maid Asleep
    ca. 1656–57
    Johannes Vermeer (Dutch)
    Oil on canvas
    Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.611)
    On view: Gallery 632
    European PaintingsSecond Floor

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