Published: February 20, 2001
Medieval and Renaissance Piety in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
BOSTON, MASS. – The cross has historically been an important theme and vehicle for artistic expression, yet there have been few exhibitions dedicated to this subject. A new show, “: Medieval and Renaissance Piety in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum,” through April 29, brings together a group of crosses remarkable for their workmanship and variety of design, an invites the contemplation of the cross as both a work of art and a symbol of spirituality and religion.
The exhibition, which focuses on three-dimensional sculpture, also provides insight into how crosses were collected during turn-of-the-century America.
Isabella Stewart Gardner began acquiring crosses and crucifixes at a time when it was not fashionable to collect such objects. She built her collection of gold, silver, bronze, and wooden crosses while traveling through Italy, Spain, and France in the late 1890s and early 1900s. it was not until a decade later that another prominent American collector, J.P. Morgan, began acquiring crosses as part of his vast Medieval art collection.
“Gardner was deeply fascinated by the spirituality and rituals of all cultures,” comments Gardner Museum director Anne Hawley. “She collected a wide range of ceremonial objects from many different religions, among them the exquisitely sculpted crosses in ‘.’ The exhibition gives us a context that enriches our aesthetic experience of these works and extends our understanding of the historical periods in which they were created.”
Focusing for the first time on this aspect of the Gardner Museum collection, the exhibition reveals the artistry of carvers and metalsmiths of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and at the same time demonstrates how widely depictions of the Crucifixion could vary in response to the religious demands of different periods.
“Crucifixes have long been ignored by American institutions despite the importance of the theme in Western Art,” explains the Gardner Museum’s Norma Jean Calderwood Curator of the Collection, Alan Chong. “Over the centuries, talented artists have responded to changes in religious belief and practice. The remarkable objects in this exhibition range widely in meaning and form. Some are superbly crafted in gold, silver, and enamel. Others, like the Catalan sculpture of the crucified Christ, made in small mountain town in the 1100s, confront us with a profoundly emotional image of human suffering.”
The following related lectures will be offered over the course of the exhibition:
On March 15, at 6:30 pm, “Symbol and Presence: in the Middle Ages” will be given by Charles T. Little, Curator of Medieval Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, who will explore the artistic, iconography , and liturgical significance of crosses from the early to late Middle Ages.
On March 27, at 2:15 pm, Valentine Talland, Senior Objects Conservator at the Gardner, will guide visitors through a behind-the-scenes look at artists’ techniques and choice of materials as demonstrated in three-dimensional objects in the exhibition, in “Sculpture in Miniature: Looking at the Craft and Materials of Medieval Crosses.”
The Gardner Museum, at 280 The Fenway, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm. To register, 617/278-5102. For information, 617/566-1401.
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