Exhibition | Following Hercules: The Story of Classical Art

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on October 20, 2015

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Press release (11 September 2015) from The Fitzwilliam:

Following Hercules: The Story of Classical Art
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 25 September — 6 December 2015

Curated by Caroline Vout

A colossal polystyrene statue of Hercules by contemporary artist Matt Darbyshire will be the star exhibit in a new exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum exploring the story of classical art. How did artefacts made in the Mediterranean millennia ago come to define western art? To show us how Greece and Rome’s gods and heroes came to inhabit post-antique painting and sculpture, the Fitzwilliam Museum has called upon one of them to act as a guide: Hercules.


Hercules and the Erymanthian Boar, ca. 1790, Wedgwood, Etruria, Staffordshire, Jasperware plaque, h. 212 mm (Cambridge: Fitzwilliam Museum)

Hercules is one of the best-loved ancient heroes. Known in antiquity for completing twelve tasks or ‘labours’ that confirmed his status as a god, Hercules is today tasked with one more—to tell the story of classical art. Hercules is brought to life by each of the forty objects on display (from exquisite gems and coins, Renaissance drawings and bronzes, to eighteenth-century paintings, and Matthew Darbyshire’s giant polystyrene statue…). Their interaction also reveals how classical art was born, and gives classical art on-going relevance.

The exhibition takes its lead from its star exhibit, a colossal sculpture by Cambridge-born artist Matthew Darbyshire. Darbyshire’s intervention is a version of the Farnese Hercules, a marble statue unearthed in Rome in 1546, but is made from sheets of polystyrene—classical art for a consumerist age. Up close, its cut, crisp polystyrene layers make it appear pixelated, but step back, and the statue comes into focus, shining like marble. Back in 1850, two years after the Founder’s Building opened to the public, the Fitzwilliam Museum exhibited another Farnese Hercules, a plaster version, now in Cambridge’s Museum of Classical Archaeology. Before being given to the Fitzwilliam, it stood in a private house in Battersea, where it moved London’s artists to tears. The Fitzwilliam Museum’s own collection is well equipped with prototypes and later versions of the Farnese Hercules: from a bronze statuette of the first century BCE, through Hendrick Goltzius’s sixteenth-century engraving of the Farnese statue’s rear view, Wedgwood’s white on blue cameo plaque, and William Blake’s illustration of the statue for Abraham Rees’s The Cyclopædia, or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature. The Museum’s collection also provides competing images of Hercules—images of Hercules young, drunk, or dressed as a woman, in bronze, wood and painted porcelain. These give context to Darbyshire’s sculpture, underlining that classicism and modernism are not opposites. In the fast moving, digital age in which we live, we perhaps need tradition more than ever.

The exhibition is curated by Dr Caroline Vout, Reader in Classics in the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Christ’s College, and is part of her British-Academy funded research project entitled Classical Art: A Life History.

Caroline Vout, Following Hercules: The Story of Classical Art (Cambridge: The Fitzwilliam Museum, 2015), 48 pages, ISBN: 978-1910731024, £5.

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Note (added 2 December 2018) — The posting was updated to include information about the catalogue.

Exhibition | Cradled in Caricature

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on October 20, 2015

The exhibition is mounted in connection with Ronald Searle: ‘Obsessed with Drawing’. From the press release. . .

Cradled in Caricature: Visual Humour in Satirical Prints and Drawings
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 13 October 2015 — 31 January 2016

12108805_10153597990117348_8562172445721678377_nCradled in Caricature: Visual Humour in Satirical Prints and Drawings looks at how artists, caricaturists and cartoonists from Hogarth to the present day create visual jokes to make their audiences laugh.

In [Ronald] Searle’s timeline of caricature, he highlighted the high and low points of its history. In the time of Hogarth, Gillray and Rowlandson he described caricature as ‘a vigorous weapon’, whereas he felt it had declined in the 19th century to ‘drawing-room gentility’. He was happy to be a part of its recovery during the 20th century, making the final point of his timeline Private Eye.

Making visual jokes is hard and not every artist has the skill. Gillray was sent designs by enthusiastic amateurs, which he would translate into print. Cradled in Caricature focuses on the techniques and tricks that worked, and which still have the power to amuse us today. These methods range from simple exaggeration of facial features, costumes and fashion fads; clever juxtapositions and contrasts of body types; absurd, nonsense comedy; physical, burlesque comedy; dark humour; bawdy humour; and more complicated word-play, with the interplay of word and image or ironic literary allusions. The works are drawn from the Fitzwilliam’s collection with key loans from Andrew Edmunds and Benjamin Lemer.


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