On Humility and Respect

It was recently discovered that a painting by Christen Købke at our National Gallery believed to depict a summer's evening in sunny Copenhagen 1838 was originally bathed in broad daylight. This as the result of artificial colors changing over time. Copenhagen at sundown is easily recognized by the surface of the central lakes turning red, so till now the interpretation had seemed natural.

There is but one thing to say:

The museum guests knew all along.

They detected the discrepancies, how the sun was to be seen there, which was far from being its correct position from this angle at evening and the shadows did not make any sense either. I could only add that Købke did not finish his greater works in situ. Sketches were transformed onto a larger canvasback in his studio and he may very well have mixed up what was supposed to be where at what time.

I learned that the two most important ingredients in art history are respect and humility.

Respect and humility to the artwork as well as its beholder. Regarding the museum guests, they enter with a world of knowledge which they bring into play while seeing these strange items. They object, they question, they identify and more often than not they discuss heatedly.

To sum up, the only colorless ones are the art historians. It is all too easy to be caught up in a juicy theory on the meaning of an artwork, not far from discovering the meaning of life, it seems. At the risk of ignoring what is actually there in front of us.

Per Marquard Otzen, And they were left colorless, December 10, 2014.

Such as the sculptures of Antiquity being painted.

It has been known since 1824.

The cartoon shown are courtesy of Per Marquard Otzen and must not be reproduced without his permission.

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