Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn; Self Portrait with Saskia, 1636; Etching; Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom, 74.7.205

Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces, on the walls and under the microscope

Summer exhibitions at CMOA present Old Master prints, and forensic investigations of paintings

Small Prints, Big Artists: Masterpieces from the Renaissance to Baroque
May 31–September 15, 2014
Heinz Galleries A & B

Faked, Forgotten, Found: Five Renaissance Paintings Investigated
June 28–September 15, 2014
Heinz Gallery C

Around the middle of the 15th century, as the development of the printing press in the West led to an unprecedented exchange of ideas, artists began to make prints. By the year 1500, a new art form and a new means of communicating ideas was widespread—one that had as great an impact in its time as the Internet has had in our own.

Carnegie Museum of Art holds an exceptional collection of prints from this period, from the masterful innovations of Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt in 16th- and 17th-century Northern Europe to the fantastical prints of Canaletto, Tiepolo, and Piranesi in 18th-century Italy. Small Prints, Big Artists, opening this summer, presents more than 200 masterworks from the museum’s collection of over 8,000 prints. The intimately scaled woodcuts, engravings, and etchings reveal the development of printmaking as a true art form. Due to their fragility, many of these prints have not been on view in decades.

Small Prints, Big Artists traces the development of prints over the centuries, exploring the evolution of printmaking techniques and unlocking the images’ hidden meanings. It offers a unique opportunity to discover works by some of the best-known artists of the Renaissance and beyond.

Adjacent to Small Prints, Big Artists in the museum’s Heinz Galleries, Faked, Forgotten, Found: Five Renaissance Paintings Investigated showcases forensic analysis of paintings in the museum’s collection that have undergone significant scientific examination and conservation. Learn how curators and conservators discovered a portrait of Isabella de Medici attributed to Alessandro Allori beneath the surface of a fake repainted in the 19th century, or discover how to tell the museum’s genuine painting by Francesco Francia of the Virgin and Child apart from later imitations and copies. The discoveries about each work are presented through extensive multimedia documentation, highlighting a fascinating but little-seen aspect of museum practice. The exhibition offers a behind-the-scenes perspective on the intersection of art and science taking place in the museum every day.

Featured prints on view include:

Click on any image to view a slideshow. A button in the lower-right allows full-resolution viewing and saving.

Jan and Lucas van Doetechum
Dutch, active 1551–1605 and active 1554–1572
After an anonymous imitator of Hieronymus Bosch
The Temptation of Saint Christopher, 1561
Engraving and etching
Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom, 74.7.47

Hieronymus Bosch and his fantastic and gruesome monsters engendered many imitators in the 16th century; this print is one example. Bosch, who died in 1516, was a painter who himself did not make or design prints. Publisher Hieronymus Cock later commissioned prints in imitation of Bosch’s paintings, seeking to capitalize on the artist’s fame. The printmakers Jan and Lucas van Doetechum worked for Cock, and created prints after drawings by Bruegel and other artists, such as the anonymous designer of this print.

The wonderfully bizarre subject here is the legend of Saint Christopher, who is shown, larger than life, at the right. According to the 13th-century Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine, Saint Christopher was a Canaanite, who was in fact very tall. The saint wished to serve “the greatest king” and he served in turn a temporal king, the devil and ultimately Christ. Saint Christopher was instructed by a hermit (who is at the left) to use his great strength to assist poor souls attempting to cross a dangerous river. We see them, perishing, in the center of the print, while in the background a fantastic imaginary ship ferries some to safety. Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, is often shown carrying a child, who symbolizes Christ on his back, an image familiar to many of us.

 

Jacques Bellange
French, c. 1575–1616
The Martyrdom of Saint Lucy, after 1613
Etching and engraving
Patrons Art Fund in honor of Linda Batis, associate curator of fine arts, 2005.30

Bellange’s etchings are unique; his mature prints are unprecedented for their singular technique and style. Here, Saint Lucy is overcome by a crowd of most unusual assailants. Soldiers in elaborate costume rush toward her from the bottom margin of the print and she is surrounded by a variety of people, most of whom are oddly disengaged from the event. The figures are at once elegant and tortured, and wonderfully costumed (notice the sandals on the woman at the left). Lucy herself, more lightly etched, stands out from the crowd as a luminous presence. The goddess Diana holds her symbol, the oil lamp, at the top left.

Saint Lucy was a fourth-century martyr, who enraged her fiancé by distributing her wealth to the poor in gratitude for the miraculous healing of her mother at the shrine of Saint Agatha. He denounced her and, when Lucy refused to recant her Christian faith, she was subjected to all manner of torture, which she survived. She was ultimately stabbed to death in the throat.

Bellange was court painter to Dukes Charles III and Henri II of Lorraine from 1602 until his early death in 1616. As court artist, he painted portraits, religious and mythological subjects, and designed theatrical productions. A few paintings and original drawings are known to us, but his 47 prints are his primary legacy.

 

Albrecht Dürer
German, 1471–1528
Knight, Death, and the Devil, 1513
Engraving
Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom, 74.7.115

Albrecht Dürer, famed as a painter, printmaker, and theoretician of art, introduced the aesthetics and themes of the Italian Renaissance to Northern Europe. His prints set a new standard for graphic perfection for over a century. This engraving is one of three collectively referred to as the Meisterstiche, or master engravings. Each print symbolizes a virtuous way of life—moral, theological, or intellectual. Knight, Death, and the Devil portrays the moral life of the Christian soldier. Scholars have long identified the figure as the Christian knight, riding toward the Castle of Virtue on the hill, oblivious to the threat of Death (holding the hourglass) or the Devil (in the guise of a horned goat). Dürer perhaps drew his inspiration from Erasmus’s Handbook of the Christian Soldier, first published in 1504, where the author exhorts the soldier for Christ to be steadfast in virtue and ignore the temptations of the flesh and the devil.

 

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
Dutch, 1606–1669
Self Portrait with Saskia, 1636
Etching
Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom, 74.7.205

Rembrandt has been regarded not only as one of the greatest painters in the history of art, but also perhaps the greatest printmaker. One of Rembrandt’s most important contributions to printmaking is the idea that each impression from a plate is a singular work of art. Prints are multiples, but in Rembrandt’s hands, each print was unique. Rembrandt made several self-portrait etchings in the 1630s. Some are very small prints that show him frowning or laughing as he looks into the mirror; in others he is dressed in an elaborate costume. He also made a few sketch plates, where he simply executed various drawings—portraits of himself, little beggars, portraits of his wife, Saskia—on the plate without any thought to subject or composition. Here, the artist, wearing an elaborate hat and holding a pen, looks out at the viewer directly, while the disproportionately small Saskia is relegated to the background.

 

Peter Paul Rubens
Flemish, 1577–1640
Saint Catherine in the Clouds, early 1620s
Etching with engraving
Gift of Charles J. Rosenbloom, 68.10.5

Rubens was one of the most important Flemish painters of the Baroque period, an artist famous for his portraits, mythological subjects, and extravagant history paintings. He lived in Italy from 1600 to 1608, and in 1609 established himself in the city of Antwerp, where he maintained a very large and active studio and gained an international reputation. Like many painters, Rubens was well aware of the potential of prints to spread his fame and enhance his reputation. He established his own workshop of engravers who made prints based on his paintings. This etching is the only one recognized by scholars as Rubens’s own work.

The print is based on Rubens’s ceiling painting for the newly built Jesuit church in Antwerp. The artist shows Saint Catherine from below as if we were looking up at her on the ceiling. The process for creating this print may have been as follows: Rubens probably etched the design on the plate and printed a few copies. Then, by pressing one impression onto another sheet of paper, Rubens made a proof that he corrected by hand. A professional engraver then made the corrections to the plate before an edition was printed. Compared to the prints after Rubens’s paintings, created by his professional engravers, this print is less polished, but more spontaneous—something we as modern viewers value but which for Rubens may have been a drawback. Perhaps this is the reason the print was never widely circulated during the painter’s lifetime.

Selected Renaissance painting from Faked, Forgotten, Found  

Gallery images show the removal of Victorian-era overpainting

Florentine, 16th century
Portrait, probably of Isabella de’ Cosimo I de Medici, c. 1574
Oil on canvas (transferred from panel)
Gift of Mrs. Paul B. Ernst

Museum curators and conservators recently uncovered this 16th-century painting beneath the surface of what they suspected to be a 19th-century fake. The painting, which been in museum storage for over 30 years, was evaluated with other works in 2013, when CMOA Conservator Ellen Baxter found intriguing evidence of its origins.

Baxter discovered older paint surfaces, and an x-ray revealed a different face and hands under the 19th-century restorations. After she painstakingly removed old overpaints (including a suspiciously pretty, dainty face and hands), she uncovered a well-preserved original surface and an entirely different subject. The sitter was soon identified as Isabella de’ Medici, daughter of Cosimo de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Florence, who sat for this portrait by one of the Medici court painters. After Cosimo died in 1574, her brother Francisco succeeded him. He disapproved of Isabella’s lavish lifestyle, and in an attempt to reform her public image by comparing herself to female saints, Isabella had the portrait altered—the first changes to the portrait were a mere two years after its creation—adding an alabaster ointment jar, halo, and disheveled curls, all of which suggest the repentance of Mary Magdalene. Her efforts were unsuccessful, and her husband and brother had her strangled to death in 1576.

The exhibition traces the life of the painting—from changes that were made to it in Isabella’s own (scandalous) time, to when and how it was repainted in the 19th century to suit Victorian tastes, to contemporary conservation efforts to return it to its original glory.

Support
General operating support for Carnegie Museum of Art is provided by The Heinz Endowments and Allegheny Regional Asset District. Carnegie Museum of Art receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Carnegie Museum of Art
Carnegie Museum of Art, founded by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1895, is nationally and internationally recognized for its collection of fine and decorative art from the 19th to 21st centuries. The collection also contains important holdings of Japanese and old master prints. Founded in 1896, the Carnegie International is one of the longest-running surveys of contemporary art worldwide. The Heinz Architectural Center, part of Carnegie Museum of Art, is dedicated to enhancing understanding of the built environment through its exhibitions, collections, and public programs. The Hillman Photography Initiative serves as a living laboratory for exploring the rapidly changing field of photography. For more information about Carnegie Museum of Art, one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, call 412.622.3131 or visit our website at www.cmoa.org

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