It’s always so exciting to get a painting out of storage! I’m happy to report that a lovely seventeenth century portrait is newly on view in the Renaissance galleries (Main Level S103). It has been carefully cleaned and looks marvelous.
The current exhibition in the European works on paper rotation space (on view until July 30) is Alluring Artifice: Mannerism in the Sixteenth Century. The show features 30 prints that explore Mannerism, a movement that emerged in European art around 1510–20 and lasted until about 1600. Characterized by densely packed compositions and a focus on the human form, the style resulted in images that are deliberately challenging in both design and technique. One of the prints featured in the show is The Annunciation, an engraving by the Dutch master printmaker Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617).
Over the years, people that I meet have asked me what I am working on, and I usually reply that I was reading a book on art history. At one point I said that to my mathematics teacher from high school. He turned his head quickly and said confidently, “Like about Da Vinci?”
“Yes,” I replied. “More or less.”
“Do you know what drives me nuts about those guys?”
“No, what drives a math teacher nuts about the Renaissance?”
“Why would anyone attempt to make art after the Renaissance?”
What he meant, of course, was that the Renaissance solved many of the technical difficulties of capturing reality in art. The artistic drive to find ways to show human anatomy, depth of space, and emotional expression had resulted in masterful paintings and sculpture.
The current exhibition in the European works on paper rotation space (on view until July 30) is Alluring Artifice: Mannerism in the Sixteenth Century. The show features 30 prints that explore Mannerism, a movement that emerged in European art around 1510-20 and lasted until about 1600. Characterized by densely packed compositions and a focus on the human form, the style resulted in images that are deliberately challenging in both design and technique. One of the prints featured in the show is Preparations for the Wedding Banquet of Cupid and Psyche, an important recent acquisition by the Italian female engraver Diana Mantuana (ca. 1547–1612), who is sometimes referred to as Diana Scultori.
It’s hard to study art and not learn something about classical mythology. The gods and heroes of ancient Greece and Rome are not only prevalent in ancient art (as in the Museum’s two Greek Hydria), but in later periods such as the Renaissance (which saw a “rebirth” of classical antiquity, which you can see in our Orpheus Clock) and the Neoclassical era (a perfect example is Hiram Powers’ Proserpine).
So, for the next two months, I want to take you on a tour of the Museum Collection with mythology as our theme. And what’s fun about myth is that once you learn some of the basics in iconography, or the standard in how figures and stories are depicted, you’ll be able to recognize it in other works at other museums, and even in daily walks around your city or shopping mall.
At first glance, the Museum’s stunning Nautilus Cup looks like an impractical way to drink. Tankards and beakers, which are also on display in the Museum’s Gallery #2, make sensible drinking vessels. In comparison the nautilus cup, a chambered nautilus shell mounted with elaborate metal work, perhaps could function as a drinking vessel, but seems more convincing as an aesthetic object.
Because it is gorgeous.
Would anyone use this stunning object to serve beverages? If not, why would anyone have this kind of odd-shaped cup? What did it mean?
In directly combing man’s art with God’s nature, a nautilus cup was the type of treasure that would have been housed in a Renaissance Wunderkammer.
Wunderkammer were privately-owned collections that are considered the predecessor of the modern museum. German for “room of wonder” or “cabinet of curiosities,” Wunderkammer developed in mid-16th-century Europe and celebrated man-made arts and also natural arts, with minerals, ivory, ostrich eggs, coconut shells, nautilus shells, and other exotic objects.
The Museum’s own American Galleries on the Lower Level are installed as a type of Wunderkammer.
Sometimes with the rush of the holiday season, it is nice to take a deep breath and spend some time on your own.
In that spirit, I’d like to consider a small-scale stone relief Virgin and Child, ca. 1550. You’ll find it at the Museum tucked in a case in Gallery #3, with works of the Northern Renaissance.
The artwork, carved in stone, is done in low relief and is set into a wood and silk case with a two-part hinged cover. The small size allowed the owner to hold it in the palm of his or her hand for private contemplation and prayer. The case is probably a later replacement, but it certainly would have had something similar to protect it when slipped into a drawer or carried for devotion during travel.
And what a beautiful image to inspire!
The work of an art historian or curator can sometimes be like that of a master investigator or CIA agent. For example, a trail of clues led to the probable identification of the woman in this painting by Sofonisba Anguissola. Anguissola is one of the earliest identified female artists, working in Italy in the late 1500s. Rare for the Renaissance, Anguissola was famous in her own time and worked as the court painter for the King of Spain, a job she secured thanks to the portraits of her family that she’d painted as she grew up and honed her skills. The girl in this image is the spitting image of many of Anguissola’s family members, with her round face, large hooded eyes, and long nose. But Anguissola had five sisters and two brothers, so who is this?