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Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Francisco de Zurbarán’s Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb

Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1598–1664). Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb, 1630/34. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase. Photo credit John R. Glembin
Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1598–1664). Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb, 1630/34. Oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase. Photo credit John R. Glembin

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s painting by Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1598–1664), Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb, has been popular with museum goers since it entered the collection in 1958. This is probably not surprising, since Zurbarán’s work is infused with a humanity that connects instantly with viewers.

Some of this power derives from the fact that Zurbarán based his painting style on traditional polychrome sculptures found in Spanish churches. Just like his better-known contemporary, Diego Velazquez (Spanish, 1599–1660), Zurbarán’s hyper-realistic paintings helped to inspire devotion in seventeenth-century Catholic Spain. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at how Zurbarán inspired devotion not only in seventeenth-century Spain, but also how he does it today.

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Art Curatorial

From the Collection—Caspar David Friedrich

Although the Milwaukee Art Museum has a fantastic collection of German art, one of the things I wish we had is a painting by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840).

Friedrich is one of the most important German artists from the Romantic period of the early 19th century, and his paintings are showstoppers. A deeply religious man from the Protestant North, Friedrich believed that both landscape and human creativity revealed God’s truth and beauty.

Combine this sentiment with artistic talent, and you have powerful and fascinating paintings rich in symbols and atmospheric effects. Here you can see some examples of Friedrich’s paintings at a Boston College website.

But, as I said, for the time being the Museum’s permanent collection doesn’t include a painting by Friedrich. There is no need to entirely despair, however, because we do have two works on paper by Friedrich. One of them, The Woman with the Raven at the Abyss, is on view right now in the exhibition Framing a Decade (on view in the Koss Gallery through April 3, 2011). This work alone is worth a visit to the show, but there are so many wonderful things included in the exhibition (and all of them in our Collection!) that you will walk away amazed. Although he had a lengthy career, Friedrich’s printmaking output was limited to eighteen etchings and four woodcuts. The designs for the woodcuts were cut into the blocks by Friedrich’s younger brother, Christian Friedrich, who was a cabinet-maker.

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Art Curatorial

Gothic Ivories Project

It’s always exciting to be contacted by colleagues at other museums about objects in the Museum’s permanent collection.  It helps us find out more information about what we have!

In early 2010, I was contacted by Dr. Catherine Yvard, the project manager for the Gothic Ivories Project at the Courtauld Institute in London.

The goal of the project was to produce an electronic catalogue of images and information about sculptures in ivory made in Europe between 1200 and 1530, as well as modern imitations.  This database, which required the cooperation of many different institutions around the world, would give researches a powerful tool.

The last comprehensive survey of Gothic ivories was published in 1924, so you can see that an updated catalogue is overdue!

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Art Curatorial

From the Collection— Neapolitan Crèche (Nativity Scene)

It’s that time of year again!  The Museum’s Neapolitan crèche is on view in the galleries for the holiday season. You’ll find it in Gallery 4 of the Collection Galleries, with European art.

The origin of the popular Christmas tradition of re-staging the Nativity scene is usually credited to Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223. The custom reached its artistic height in eighteenth-century Naples.  Nobles and aristocrats vied to outdo each other in presenting theatrical crèche (or presepio) displays with elaborate figures clothed in luxurious costumes.  In addition to the Holy Family, the scenes would include angels, putti, shepherds, the Magi, and a host of barnyard animals.  The most elaborate scenes would include daily life in Naples, such as the market, resulting in a lively scene mixing the sacred and the secular that could fill entire rooms.