peter schjeldahl | you want to be worthy of it
While you're looking at Giovanni Bellini's big oil on wood "St. Francis in the Desert" (circa 1475-78), at the Frick Collection, it seems to satisfy every personal use you've ever had for art. Wanting any other work would betray gluttony. Now the museum has organized a little show around research into this most perfect of pictures. There's not much to discover. X-rays of the scene, in which the saint stands transfixed in a multitudinous landscape, find a completely worked-out drawing, across which Bellini applied the skin of paint as deftly as if he were pulling a blind. The jewel-like style rivals that of contemporaneous Flemish oils but is suffused with Italian tenderness. The painting stuns with its conception of physical and spiritual vision as one and the same. We are seduced by naturalistic and poetic details - that personable donkey, unforgettably - while being set back on our heels by the polished execution. Like the humility of St. Francis, the work's sublimity makes you want to be worthy of it. Change your life!
The New Yorker, July 11 & 18, 2011