Enfilade

On Site | The International Museum of the Reformation in Geneva

Posted in on site by Editor on June 9, 2014

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Geneva’s Maison Mallet (to the left), built between 1772 and 1725, houses the International Museum of the Reformation; it stands next to the thirteenth-century St. Pierre Cathedral, the front of which is dominated by a mid-eighteenth-century portico. The photo comes from the museum’s website.

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The Other Side of the Story: The International Museum of the Reformation in Geneva
By Tobias Locker

Art historians are—at least to generalize from my own experience—rarely surprised by museums. And yet, sometimes we visit an institution where subject, setting, and presentation complement each other so favorably that they transform the visit into an inspiring experience. I was recently surprised in such a way at Geneva’s International Museum of the Reformation. The visit expanded and enriched my view of the Reformation, which is sometimes cast as less important than Roman Catholicism for understanding the Baroque, even as it was the trigger for the Counter Reformation. The Museum tells the other side of the story, the one of an influential religious movement inspiring the arts and mentality of the early modern period.

The International Museum of the Reformation was inaugurated in 2005, next to St. Pierre Cathedral in the Maison Mallet, a hôtel particulier, modelled entre court et jardin and built between 1722 and 1725, after plans of the architect Jean-François Blondel (uncle and mentor of Jacques François Blondel, the architectural theorician and author of the famous multivolume works De la distribution des maisons de plaisance… and l’Architecture Française…). At its opening, the museum still had much in common with the original nineteenth-century project of presenting Geneva as the seat of the Calvinist Reformation. But today the focus is—as its name suggests—much wider, extending the narrative of historic Protestantism into the twenty-first century.

Besides offering a fine impression of a prestigious home of a wealthy eighteenth-century Genevan citizen, the museum’s presentation succeeds on multiple fronts. While relatively small, it gives a good idea of the different currents of the Reformation. On its ground floor figures like Martin Luther, John Calvin, the Huguenots, and John Knox are explained while the lower level addresses the development of reformed religions from the nineteenth century to the present in a global context.

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I was particularly impressed by installations allowing visitors to experience the rooms of the Maison Mallet while also employing a varied array of media to make the visit fresh and exciting. The Grand Salon, for example, presents chairs grouped around tables with imbedded screens. A film explaining the essential ideas of the Reformation alternates between these screens and two pier-glasses, which themselves turn into screens during parts of the presentation. I found the multimedia display entertaining and clever; the process of watching the film was made more active as the eye was forced to also experience the room, and, for me, the installation provides a rare case in which Philippe Starck’s translucent ‘Louis Ghost’ chairs serve as an appropriate solution, lightening the density of the room while still acknowledging the eighteenth-century setting.

I was also intrigued by the way the exhibition works well for very different intellectual levels. From a scholarly point of view, the information is satisfying, even as the presentations (in both French and English) are easy to understand. The film in the Grand Salon, for instance, is narrated from the point of view of a child, a ‘customer group’ that in my eyes often is not considered sufficiently. Likewise, some dioramas with cutout copies of engravings animated by the turn of a crank handle are positioned at the height of small children.

The efforts of the museum were rewarded in 2007 with the prestigious Museum Prize of the Council of Europe. The International Museum of the Reformation is well worth a visit, and the quick 45-minute walk-through you originally had in mind might extend into a longer visit. If you have energy and time left afterward, you could visit the adjoining St. Pierre Cathedral and the archaeological site under the present thirteenth-century structure, with ruins of earlier churches dating back to the fourth century (the site’s importance was recognized with a Europa Nostra Award in 2008).

Tobias Locker is an art historian and lecturer based in Barcelona/Spain. His research focuses on furniture and decorative arts of the eighteenth century in Europe.

Call for Papers | Sewell C. Biggs Winterthur Furniture Forum, 2015

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on June 9, 2014

From Winterthur:

Sewell C. Biggs Winterthur Furniture Forum
New York Furniture:
From New Netherlands to Empire State

Winterthur, Wilmington, Delaware, 4–7 March 2015

Proposals due by 1 September 2014

Image at top: Chest, 1700–35. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1958.1144. Photo by Gavin Ashworth Chest, 1700–35. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1958.1144. Photo by Gavin Ashworth

Chest, 1700–35. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont 1958.1144. Photo by Gavin Ashworth

Winterthur solicits paper proposals for the 2015 Sewell C. Biggs Winterthur Furniture Forum From New Netherlands to Empire State: New York Furniture, to be held March 4–7, 2015, at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Winterthur, Delaware.

This forum will focus on the multifaceted furniture of New York and adjacent communities in New Jersey and Connecticut with talks that explore Dutch origins, English styling, and the ascendancy of designs marketed by nationally known manufacturers. Especially welcome are topics with an end date before 1870 that examine: expressions of ethnic and cultural identity in the production and consumption of furniture; links between the cabinetmaking and building trades and the architectural settings of furniture; labor and shop practices; mass production, the introduction of new designs and international marketing strategies. Other topics are also encouraged.

Proposals for presentations 30 minutes in length should include a brief letter of interest, one-page abstract, and short cv and may be e-mailed to: jlane@winterthur.org or mailed to: Furniture Forum 2015, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, 5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, DE 19735.