Release Date: August 14, 2000
Paintings and Precious Objects from the Renaissance on View in Newly Constructed Italian Cabinet Galleries; Opening 17 September at the National Gallery of Art
Washington, DC—Beginning 17 September, visitors to the National Gallery of Art can view small Renaissance paintings and precious objects in a suite of three new cabinet galleries constructed adjacent to the Titian room in the Italian galleries on the main floor of the West Building. The new Italian Cabinet Galleries are designed to evoke the interior of an Italian Renaissance palace or villa and will showcase paintings and precious objects like those kept and enjoyed in the small private chambers or studies (studioli) of a prince, humanist, or well-to-do merchant. In these rooms, Renaissance collectors expressed their individual tastes and interests through the rare and beautiful objects they chose to display.
The new Italian Cabinet Galleries build on the success of the Dutch Cabinet Galleries, which opened at the National Gallery of Art in 1995. Seven installations have been presented in the Dutch Cabinet Galleries over the last five years, with the eighth exhibition, Small Northern European Portraits from The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, also opening on 17 September 2000.
Some 40 works of art from the Gallery's permanent collection will be on view. Small paintings will be hung alongside built-in wooden cases containing bronze statuettes and plaquettes, portrait medals, engraved rock crystal vessels set in enameled gold and gems, ivory carvings, and brightly painted maiolica. Many of these works reveal the Renaissance fascination with classical Greece and Rome, as collectors sought out rare antiquities and commissioned works incorporating heroes and motifs from the ancient world. They also reflect the spread of the Italian taste for ornamentation and the antique to countries like France, as well as the influence of Near and Far Eastern ornamental styles on Italian bronze and ceramic vessels.
"The opening of the Italian Cabinet Galleries continues in the National Gallery's tradition of presenting its permanent collection in spaces of the highest quality and in ways that enhance the visitor experience. The new intimately scaled galleries are ideally suited for admiring these fine works of art at close range," said Earl A. Powell lll, director, National Gallery of Art.
Works in the Installation
Nine frescoes depicting the mythological tale of Prince Cephalus and Princess Procris of Attica adorn the walls of the central room of the Italian Cabinet Galleries. They were executed between 1520 and 1522 by the Lombard master Bernardino Luini (c. 1480-1532). The paintings are the only examples of an Italian Renaissance fresco series in America. Commissioned by Luini's aristocratic patron, Gerolamo Rabia, to decorate one of his two residences, the frescoes form one of the earliest and most extensive depictions of a classical theme in northern Italy. Some three centuries after these murals were created, they were removed from their original setting and mounted as panels. Their cropped edges and discrepancies in scale, resulting from a previous installation, show that they are fragments of larger compositions.
Among the other painted masterpieces in the installation are Lorenzo Lotto's Allegory of Virtue and Vice (1505), Venus and Cupid in a Landscape (c. 1505/1515), attributed to the Circle of Giorgione, Titian's Cupid with the Wheel of Fortune (c. 1520), and Veronese's The Finding of Moses (probably 1570/1575).
The production of tin-glazed earthenware, known as maiolica, constituted a lively industry in Renaissance Italy. Several examples of maiolica plates and bowls will be presented in the Italian Cabinet Galleries. Plate with Venus in her chariot and Cupid, riding through a night sky (c. 1530/1535), attributed to Nicola da Urbino or a close associate, and Shallow bowl on low foot with the Conversion of Saul (c. 1525), attributed to Francesco Xanto Avelli, the great eccentric among the Urbino school of maiolica painters, demonstrate the remarkable talents of the artists. A rare blue and white glazed flask, influenced by Chinese and Near Eastern ceramics, comes from the late sixteenth-century Medici workshop in Florence.
Three examples of "Saint-Porchaire" ware, one of the rarest and most mysterious of all types of Renaissance ceramics, are included in the exhibition. Saint-Porchaire, produced in France during the sixteenth century, is recognized by its richly patterned decoration inlaid into a "clay skin," its assembly from parts made through a variety of techniques, and its uniform fine white clay that shrinks little in firing. Fewer than eighty examples survive. The pieces featured in this installation include a salt cellar, a candlestick, and a cup adorned with the royal arms of France.
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