Enfilade

Exhibition | The Recovery of Antiquity

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on June 23, 2016

Press release for the exhibition closing this weekend at the MMFA:

The Recovery of Antiquity: From the Renaissance to Neoclassicism in France and Italy
Le retour à l’antique: de la Renaissance au néoclassicisme, en France et en Italie
Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, 12 January — 26 June 2016

Jean‑Baptiste Lallemand (1716–1803), Classical Ruins, gouache on paper mounted on cardboard. 61.1 × 44.6 cm (MMFA, Lady Davis Bequest)

Jean‑Baptiste Lallemand (1716–1803), Classical Ruins, gouache on paper mounted on cardboard. 61.1 × 44.6 cm (MMFA, Lady Davis Bequest)

In connection with the exhibition Pompeii (on view until September 5), the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presents The Recovery of Antiquity, revealing the keen interest of artists from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century for antiquities. This selection of graphic works from the Museum’s collection features over fifty prints and drawings, including several new acquisitions. It features works by French masters like François Boucher, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, and Anne-Louis Girodet, as well as several Italian artists. Some of these works are being exhibited for the first time.

The discoveries in Rome at the turn of the sixteenth century of the Apollo Belvedere and the Laocoön—the latter praised as a masterpiece by Pliny the Elder in the first century—occurred precisely when that city was emerging from its medieval conditions and becoming once again the international centre of art, culture, and political influence in Europe, with artists like Bramante, Raphael and Michelangelo transforming and re-envisioning Rome at the forefront of a Christian humanism deeply rooted in its Imperial Roman artistic heritage. The rediscovery at this same period of Nero’s great villa at the heart of the city, the Domus Aurea, with some of its frescoed interior spaces intact, seemed to confirm this mission.

Charles Michel-Ange Challe (1718–1778), Interior View of an Ancient Temple with the Figure of a Goddess, ca. 1742–49 (MMFA, gift of Dr. Sean B. Murphy)

Charles Michel-Ange Challe (1718–1778), Interior View of an Ancient Temple with the Figure of a Goddess, ca. 1742–49 (MMFA, gift of Dr. Sean B. Murphy)

A distinct aesthetic appreciation of Greek art dates back to the latter fifteenth century, when the Venetian Empire encompassed the Greek peninsula and islands, as well as Crete and Cyprus. Collectors, especially Venetians, prized the more generalized and less veristic character of classical and Hellenistic Greek art. It reached an apogee in the mid-eighteenth century in Rome, when Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the celebrated aesthete and historian in Rome, elevated the artistic accomplishments of the Greeks above those of the Romans, creating animated controversy among other aestheticians and the artistic community. In counterpoint, Piranesi’s prints recorded in dramatic and inspiring terms the legacy of Roman Antiquity. It was precisely at this same moment, in 1748, that excavations were revealing to an enthralled public the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried in the cataclysm of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Two generations later, influenced by these archaeological discoveries, Napoleon adopted Roman imperial emblemata and styles to advance his own political and imperial ambitions.

From the engravings of Marcantonio Raimondi after designs by Raphael to the spectacular eighteenth-century etchings of Giovanni Battista Piranesi exalting the still-visible remains of ancient Rome to the early nineteenth-century illustrations after designs by Anne- Louis Girodet for works written by ancient authors, we can see the constant reinterpretation and changing visions of different generations regarding their own interface with Antiquity.

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