Bellini’s Queen of Cyprus Goes on View at the Met

Gentile Bellini’s portrait of Catarina Cornaro.

Times may be tough for New York’s museums, but that isn’t stopping the Metropolitan Museum of Art from mounting a major loan exhibition later this year. On December 19, the museum opens “The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini,” a blockbuster that will include about 160 works from more than 40 museums around the world.

Just the other day, The Observer noticed, the Met quietly put one of those major loans on view: Gentile Bellini’s portrait of Catarina Cornaro, the queen of Cyprus, comes from the Szepmuveszeti Muzeum in Budapest.

Like many Renaissance paintings, this one, which has just been cleaned and restored by the Met in preparation for the show, tells the story of a powerful figure humbling herself before a genius artist. The inscription on Bellini’s portrait of the queen states: “The senate of Venice calls me daughter.  Cyprus, seat of nine kingdoms, is subject to me.  You see how important I am, yet greater still is the hand of Gentile Bellini, which has captured my image on such a small panel.”

The Bellini painting’s current sneak preview will be brief. “The Renaissance Portrait” opens in Berlin at the end of August at the Bode Museum, so the painting will hang at the Met only until it’s whisked off to Germany and then return with the full show in December.

The Bode, which co-organized the show, announced in June that Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Lady With an Ermine will make an appearance there as part of “The Renaissance Portrait” before that painting travels on to the Leonardo exhibition at London’s National Gallery.  Will the Leonardo then travel to New York before heading back home to Poland?  The Met curator of this show, Keith Christiansen, was unavailable for comment, but his office, reached today, said no.

Maybe that will change, what with the London papers reporting yesterday that the Leonardo painting’s owner now doubts that the National Gallery is secure enough to protect its painting from something like the recent spray paint attack on a Poussin painting there.  Can New York hope for the Met being substituted for the National Gallery?  Stay tuned.

In related news, The Met, according to its website, is still looking for a corporate sponsor for “The Renaissance Portrait.”  Price tag:  $1 million.


Bellini’s Queen of Cyprus Goes on View at the Met