Exhibition | Exuberance of Meaning: Catherine the Great’s Patronage

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on August 26, 2013

Press release (1 July 2013) from the Georgia Museum of Art:

Exuberance of Meaning: The Art Patronage of Catherine the Great
Georgia Museum of Art, The University of Georgia at Athens, 21 September 2013 — 5 January 2014
Hillwood Museum and Gardens, Washington, D.C., 1 February — 7 June 2014

Curated by Asen Kirin


Chalice, Iver Windfeldt Buch (1749-1811), St. Petersburg, 1791, gold, diamonds, chalcedony, bloodstone, nephrite, carnelian, cast glass, height: 33 cm, diameter: 18 cm (Hillwood Museum and Gardens)

The Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia presents Exuberance of Meaning: The Art Patronage of Catherine the Great September 21, 2013 to January 5, 2014. This exhibition features works of decorative art the Russian empress Catherine the Great commissioned for her own use or as gifts for courtiers, including a large chalice created by noted goldsmith Iver Winfeldt Buch.

The Buch chalice, which belongs to Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington, D.C., serves as the centerpiece of the exhibition. Adorned with precious gems and eight carved cameos, it demonstrates how Catherine combined Byzantine and classical influences to forge a new direction for Russian culture. Other objects establish the background for the empress’s choices or represent major currents in 17th- and 18th-century Russian art. Dr. Asen Kirin, associate professor of art and associate director of UGA’s Lamar Dodd School of Art, is curator of this exhibition, which borrows objects from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Chipstone Foundation, the Walters Museum and private collections, as well as Hillwood.

Marjorie Merriweather Post, the sole heir to the multimillion-dollar Post Cereal Company, purchased the works that formed Hillwood’s Russian collection. Many of the works she purchased while in Russia in the 1930s are on display in this exhibition. Kirin invites audiences “to contemplate the art collections of two extraordinary women, who lived at different times and could not have come from more dissimilar environments. One is Europe’s Old Regime of absolute hereditary monarchies, the other—the modern, industrialized America of free enterprise.”

The exhibition presents a comparison of dazzling and masterful objects that exemplify both medieval Byzantine culture, of which Russia was the successor and guardian, and the Western, neoclassical style that was the hallmark of the Enlightenment. It focuses on the manner in which Catherine applied her knowledge of ancient and medieval glyptic art and incorporated her collection of carved gems in the commission of new works of art, a deliberate continuation of the centuries-old tradition of placing pagan, Greek, and Roman carved stones onto sacred Christian liturgical and devotional objects.

During her reign, the empress worked to reconcile her contemporary scientific and historical frame of mind with the devotional ways of the Orthodox Church, which had long been sanctified by tradition. The title Exuberance of Meaning refers to the crucial characteristic that distinguishes her endeavors in the arts: she conceived her projects in a manner that allowed for multiple complementary interpretations covering a wide spectrum of meanings.

Kirin is particularly interested in the comparison of the two collectors, Catherine and Post, as both women were powerful, accomplished and elevated their respective domains despite a tradition of male dominance. Kirin suggests that audiences contemplate “how the arts enabled them to present themselves to society and to control the perception of their images.”

Kirin has worked with the museum before, perhaps most notably on the exhibition Sacred Art, Secular Context, which examined Byzantine works of art from the collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.

The museum will publish a catalogue to accompany the exhibition, featuring full-page, full-color illustrations of the objects it includes and scholarly essays on Catherine’s art patronage, the Buch chalice and the empress’ proto-feminist use of vessels to make a statement about gender and power.

Events associated with the exhibition include films, a family day, and a two-day symposium scheduled for November 1–2 featuring noted scholars of Russian art. The museum’s Collectors Group, an upper-level membership group within the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art, will host an opening for the exhibition September 21 in conjunction with the UGA Performing Arts Center’s presentation of a concert of music the empress favored.

Conference | The Enlightened Gaze in Eighteenth-Century Russia

Posted in conferences (to attend) by Editor on August 26, 2013

From the symposium program:

The Enlightened Gaze: Gender, Power, and Visual Culture in Eighteenth-Century Russia
Georgia Museum of Art, The University of Georgia at Athens, 1–2 November 2013


Round Box with Catherine II as Minerva, Paris, 1781–82, gold
verre eglomisé, 7.3 cm (Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens)

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Organized in conjunction with the exhibition Exuberance of Meaning: The Art Patronage of Catherine the Great, Georgia Museum of Art (21 September 2013 – 5 January 2014). This exhibition’s assembly of imperial portraits, liturgical vessels, icons, books, and dinnerware provides insight into Russian visual culture from the second half of the eighteenth century and illustrates the complex dynamic between the collecting of historical art and the commissioning of new works of art.  Friday evening’s lecture and all sessions of the symposium are open to the public and will take place at the M. Smith-Griffith Auditorium, Georgia Museum of Art, 90 Carlton Street, Athens, GA 30602.

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F R I D A Y ,  1  N O V E M B E R  2 0 1 3

6:00  The Shouky Shaheen Lecture by Priscilla Roosevelt (Princeton), “Serfdom and Splendor: The World of the Russian Country Estate”

7:00  Reception at the Georgia Museum of Art

S A T U R D A Y ,  2  N O V E M B E R  2 0 1 3

8:00  Coffee and pastries

8:30  Opening remarks by William U. Eiland

9:00  Session One: Gender and Power in Eighteenth-Century Europe

Presenter and moderator, Alisa Luxenberg (UGA, School of Art)

• Marcus Levitt (University of South California), “On Catherine’s Greatness”

• Michael Yonan (University of Missouri), “How to Be an Empress in Eighteenth-Century Europe: Maria Theresa of Austria and Catherine the Great Compared”

• Emily Everhart (UGA, School of Art), “Enduring Friendship: The Legacy of the Marquise de Pompadour at the Château de Bellevue”

10:30  Coffee break

11:00  Session Two: Verbal and Pictorial Texts

Presenter and moderator, Priscilla Roosevelt

• Jennifer Palmer (UGA, Department of History), “Picturing Slavery in the Eighteenth Century”

• Elizaveta Renne (State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), “A ‘Toy’ Castle: The Whim of an Ambitious Owner, Chesme Palace and Its Portrait Gallery”

• Edward Kasinec (Columbia University, Harriman Institute), “Two ‘Royal Doors’ from the Reign of Catherine the Great and Their Twentieth-Century Fate”

12:30  Discussion

1:00  Lunch and gallery tour

2:30  Session Three: Intentions and Happy Accidents: The Total Design Environment

Presenter and moderator, Shelley Zuraw (UGA, School of Art)

• Mimi Hellman (Skidmore College), “Lost in Decoration: Thoughts on Intentionality and Visuality in Eighteenth-Century Interiors”

• Asen Kirin (UGA, School of Art), “The Guiding Gaze of the Enlightened Empress: The Architecture of Lookout Spaces”

3:30  Coffee break

4:00  Session Four: The Attitudes to Byzantium after Catherine II

Presenter and moderator, Kristen Regina

• Yuri Saveliev (The Russian Academy of Arts, Moscow), “The Byzantine Idea in the Imperial Patronage of Russian Architecture”

• Yuri Pyatnitski (State Hermitage. St. Petersburg), “The Shadow of Byzantium Over Nineteenth= and Twentieth-Century Russia: A Historical-Mythological Paradox”

5:00  Discussion

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