Muscarelle’s Latest Exhibit Explores Two Centuries of Italian Paintings, Sculptures

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Muscarelle Museum of Art Assistant Director and Chief Curator John Spike (right) describes the museum's latest exhibit to a group of docents on Friday. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)
Muscarelle Museum of Art Assistant Director and Chief Curator John Spike (right) describes the museum’s latest exhibit to a group of docents on Friday. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)

 

The Muscarelle Museum of Art is going for baroque with its latest exhibit.

After a series of hugely successful renaissance-themed exhibits, the museum has embarked on a mission to showcase another side of Italy’s rich artistic legacy. Twilight of a Golden Age: Florentine Painting after the Renaissance opens today, offering visitors to the museum a chance to see the work of the great Italian painters who followed the Renaissance during the baroque period.

The more than 20 paintings and sculptures contained in the exhibit are on display courtesy Sir Mark Fehrs Haukohl, a private art collector who circulates his gallery of baroque Italian paintings and sculptures through museums in the U.S. He has been collecting the work that comprises the exhibit for more than 40 years.

“I wanted to document and leave something that is for Florence in the 17th century,” Haukohl said, noting that while Renaissance artists receives ample attention from the public, their baroque successors do not always enjoy such prominence.

He said the baroque period is an exciting time for visual art, as the painters and sculptors who crafted the work were released from the restraint of the Renaissance.

“They’re not following the formalist dictums of the renaissance,” he said. “Here you see color and dimensions.”

For example, the gallery contains a painting of St. John the Baptist in the wilderness by the artist Giovanni Battista Vanni that eschews the traditional painter’s canvas in favor of a base of quartz. That base lends a three-dimensional quality to the picture of St. John. His robes are painted a vibrant shade of red, while the natural landscape behind him oscillates between rich hues of blue, brown and white.

Vanni is one of many Italian baroque painters active in the decades following the death of Michelangelo in 1564. Those artists are not well known outside of Italy, and the collection lent to the Muscarelle by the Haukohl family is “the most important” collection of their work in the U.S., according to the museum’s director, Aaron De Groft.

John Spike, the assistant director of the Muscarelle and its chief curator, said discussions to bring the exhibit to Williamsburg began with Haukohl about a year ago.

“He thought this was a good fit [for the Muscarelle],” Spike said.

Spike said the exhibit is ready for those who “yearn to see the pinnacles of human endeavor and thought.”

The paintings and sculptures dot the years of the 17th and 18th centuries. The largest portion of the exhibit is devoted to the work of three generations of the Dandini family, whose work was produced amid the benefaction of the powerful Medici banking family.

A special section of the exhibit details the culture of Florence while it was under the rule of grand dukes from the Medici family. That section features stucco portraits of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo and Marsilio Ficino by the artist Antonio Montauti.

The exhibit follows in the footsteps of Leonardo Da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty, an exhibit featuring work by Da Vinci and his contemporary Michelangelo. De Groft said the museum is still crunching the numbers, but it is clear the exhibit has set a new attendance record for the Muscarelle. That exhibit ran from February through April 15 and is now on display in Boston.

The exhibit opens today and runs through Jan. 17. Tickets are $10 per person except for William & Mary students, faculty, staff and children under 12, who all get in for free. Regularly scheduled docent tours are available at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.