NEW YORK — In this brazen town a few voices prove that silver-tongued modesty still speaks sweeter than brass-mouthed ballyhoo. One is the Pierpont Morgan Library, whose collections of rare manuscripts are legend and whose quarters in the old mansion at 29 East 36th St. are more homey than conceited.
Like the Frick collection, the place remains a haven from the hoo-ha descended like a circus tent on many of the town's larger museums. Everything about the Morgan Library inclines one to pay attention when they announce an exhibition with the somewhat hesitant assertion that it is probably the most important they have ever done.
Called "Raphael and His Circle," it is on view to Jan. 3 and consists of about 90 drawings from British and North American collections by the great Italian Renaissance artist or those influenced by him. The question of who actually did which drawing is crucial to historians and connoisseurs but to the poetic browser, it is less important than the consistency of the personality that envelopes the whole. Drawings here not by Raphael are so infused with his spirit that it almost doesn't matter.
That spirit is one to bring joy and solace to any guy whose appearance in beardless youth inspired school-yard bullies and campus thugs to call him a sissy and an arty egghead. Raphael was the sweetest and most agreeable of artists. Born in pastoral Urbino in 1483 and elevated to artistic apotheosis in Rome, he painted religious and allegorical subjects with an eye so humane that real people are as lovely as angels and angels are as real as you and I. When citizens seeking culture in extension courses first encounter him, billed with Leonardo and Michelangelo as one of the three great geniuses of the High Renaissance, they take it on faith from the professor but in their hearts they don't believe it. Leonardo's creativity and Michelangelo's passion are easily grasped by modern eyes but who was this guy with his Madonna of the Goldfinch, Madonna of the Pigeon, Madonna of the Speckled Grackle? They all look alike with their Gerber baby food infants and their virgins as perfect and perfectly boring as a Beverly Hills hostess.