You are on a tour of the Titian exhibit at the National Gallery of Art with J. Carter Brown, the gallery's director, as your personal guide. "This is not just a painting about a mythological event, but a statement about the human condition, about the nature of suffering and the pain of spiritual revelation," he gently intones as you glance up at "The Flaying of Marsyas." As you listen to Brown's descriptions, there's something else in the air -- a stirring of strings, an emotional sound that makes you feel the message of the painting. Indeed, it is a late Beethoven quartet, the String Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130, that rises behind Brown's voice on the National Gallery's Acoustiguide tour tape, available for rental ($3.50 adults, $3 for seniors and students).

"This is a first for us to try to do it thoughtfully, matching the music to the art history and the mood and emotion with the paintings," said Brown, who got the idea of using non-period music while viewing the late-Titian works before the exhibit, "Titian: Prince of Painters," opened. "The risk was to depart from being strictly chronological, to go beyond that and through to the emotional equivalent.

"I was struck by the way that the late Titian is like an analogy of the late Beethoven. These are artists in their old age pushing their art," he said. "I think {the compositions} are great spiritual triumphs and thought it would be interesting to get them together."

Also on the Acoustiguide tape: Beethoven's String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 131, and "Grosse Fuge," Op. 133.

"Even though Beethoven and Titian are from separate eras {Titian died in 1576, Beethoven in 1827}, they salute each other across the centuries," said Susan Arensberg, who directs the museum's educational programs for exhibitions and who helped select the compositions. "There's a searing, highly personal quality to their work. It was that quality that they shared that we thought would help people to approach these quite difficult late Titians."

Selecting appropriate music for the Acoustiguide tape, which includes works by Palestrina (early and religious works), Stradella (portraits) and Scarlatti (mythological paintings), was a "brainstorming" process, according to Arensberg. "Our music office here at the gallery was very helpful," she said. "We tried many things, but sometimes we found the music went too long. One doesn't want to be distracting."

"We didn't know if it would work," said Brown. "It was a gamble. But if {the compositions} are short, they do have a way of cutting through the verbalization."

"Acoustiguide usage is up three times," he said. "So I think this experiment has worked."

Faces of Old Hickory

There's no personality around today who could compare with Andrew Jackson, except maybe John Riggins. "You either liked Jackson or you didn't. He had a rough edge to him," said James G. Barber. "Jackson was a no-nonsense man."

Barber should know. The historian and curator has spent the past few years organizing "Old Hickory: A Life Sketch of Andrew Jackson," which opens Friday at the National Portrait Gallery, at Eighth and F streets NW. "The reason for a Jackson show is, first of all, the art and portraits are out there," said Barber. "Jackson probably had more portraits done of him than any of his contemporaries. He was the nation's first general hero since George Washington, so naturally Americans wanted to look at him."

"Old Hickory" is the last of three National Portrait Gallery exhibitions celebrating the bicentennial of the Constitution. Two years ago the gallery hosted "The First Congress," a show representing the legislative branch of the government. Last year's salute to the judicial branch was "Portraits of American Law." The show about Jackson, the nation's seventh president, is a tip of the hat to the executive powers.

Known to some as a brilliant military strategist for his role in the Battle of New Orleans, Jackson also made many enemies for drafting the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which brutally forced the relocation of Indians west of the Mississippi.

"I feel like I have a pretty good feel for the man," said Barber. "I think Jackson transcends liking or disliking. He so represents the America of his period, all its strengths and weaknesses. You just sort of stand back and say, 'My, how far we've come.' "