Exhibition | Mr. Pergolesi’s Curious Things

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on January 11, 2023

Now on view at Cooper Hewitt–and please note the upcoming programming described below. . .

Mr. Pergolesi’s Curious Things: Ornament in 18th-Century Britain
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York City, 1 October 2022 — 29 January 2023

Curated by Julia Siemon

Colored drawing of a design for a tripod flanked on either side by Roman standards.

Michel Angelo Pergolesi, Ornament Design, Tripod and Roman Standards, 1776, pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper; 48 × 34 cm (Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; gift of an unknown donor, 1980-32-1443; photo by Matt Flynn).

Mr. Pergolesi’s Curious Things: Ornament in 18th-Century Britain showcases fanciful drawings and prints by Michel Angelo Pergolesi (died 1801), an Italian-born artist whose professional specialty, in his words, was “the ornaments of the ancients.” In the early 1760s, Pergolesi moved to London, where he helped popularize a neoclassical style that employed ornament inspired by artifacts from ancient Greece and Rome. Brilliantly hued watercolors from Cooper Hewitt’s collection highlight Pergolesi’s skill in transforming ancient relics—what he called “curious Things”—into lighthearted decorative motifs. Although his name is now largely forgotten, these rarely seen works call attention to Pergolesi’s legacy, to the Beaux-Arts neoclassical decoration of Cooper Hewitt’s historic mansion (built 1897–1902), and to the ways in which ornament of all kinds enlivens our built environment.

The exhibition is made possible with support from the Marks Family Foundation Endowment Fund. It was organized by Julia Siemon. Exhibition design is by Field Guide Architecture and Design with graphic design by Kelly Sung.

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Left: Pietro Santi Bartoli, Gli antichi sepolcri, overo Mausolei Romani et Etruschi, trovati in Roma & in altri luoghi celebri…, Rome, 1697, plate 84 (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute Library, 82-B2112). Middle: Copy of the Portland Vase, 1850–60, manufactured by Josiah Wedgwood and Sons, stoneware (Smithsonian Institution, Gift of Mrs. Frederick F. Thompson, 1915-30-1; photo by Matt Flynn). Right: Michel Angelo Pergolesi, Ornament Design with Portland Vase and Two Cameos, 1776, pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper (Smithsonian Institution, Gift of Unknown Donor, 1980-32-1463; photo by Matt Flynn).

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The Antique in Print: The Classical Past and the Visual Arts in the Long 18th Century
Online, Wednesday, 18 January 2023, 1.00pm ET

Classical reliefs, sarcophagi, frescoes, coins, and gems were frequently copied and readapted by Renaissance artists from the 15th century onwards. Yet it was only in the age of the Enlightenment that a selection of them was canonized, illustrated, and diffused in Europe through antiquarian publications. Scholars and travelers on the Grand Tour viewed antiquity through the lens of these books. Their printed illustrations offered a range of images and symbolic references for artists, decorators, and architects whenever they wanted to quote the Antique in their creations. Join us as Dr. Adriano Aymonino explores how the print culture of the long 18th century shaped the visual and allegorical language of Neoclassicism. At the same time, he will contextualize Michel Angelo Pergolesi’s drawings and popular set of prints (Designs for Various Ornaments, 1777–1801). Dr. Julia Siemon, curator of Cooper Hewitt’s Mr. Pergolesi’s Curious Things: Ornament in 18th Century Britain will provide a brief overview of the exhibition at the start of the program.

The program will feature a lecture with a slideshow presentation followed by an audience Q&A hosted through Zoom, with the option to dial in as well. Details will be emailed upon registration. This program includes closed captioning. It will be recorded and available on Cooper Hewitt’s YouTube channel a week following the lecture. For general questions or if we can provide additional accessibility services or accommodations to support your participation in this program, please email CHEducation@si.edu or let us know when registering.

Adriano Aymonino is Director of Undergraduate Programmes in the Department of History of Art at the University of Buckingham and Programme Director for the MA in the Art Market and the History of Collecting. He has curated several exhibitions, such as Drawn from the Antique: Artists and the Classical Ideal, held at the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London in 2015. His book Enlightened Eclecticism was published by Yale University Press in June 2021 and has won the 2022 William MB Berger Prize for British Art History. He is currently working on a revised edition of Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny’s Taste and the Antique (2023); and on a critical edition of Robert Adam’s Grand Tour correspondence, which will be hosted on the Sir John Soane’s Museum website (2024). He is also co-editor of the series Paper Worlds published by MIT Press and associate editor of the Journal of the History of Collections.

Julia Siemon is Assistant Curator of Paintings at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Prior to joining the Getty, she was Assistant Curator of Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, where she organized Mr. Pergolesi’s Curious Things: Ornament in 18th-Century Britain. Previously, as Assistant Research Curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, she organized The Silver Caesars: A Renaissance Mystery (2017–18) and was editor and co-author of the related volume. Her other publications include contributions to The Medici: Portraits and Politics 1512–1570 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2021) and A Royal Renaissance Treasure and its Afterlives: The Royal Clock Salt (British Museum Research Publications, 2021). She holds a PhD from Columbia University (2015), where she specialized in Italian Renaissance painting.

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Tour with Exhibition Curator Julia Siemon
Cooper Hewitt, New York, Friday, 20 January 2023, 1.30pm ET

In this guided tour with exhibition curator Julia Siemon, visitors will encounter fanciful drawings and prints by Michel Angelo Pergolesi, an Italian-born artist whose professional specialty, in his words, was “the ornaments of the ancients.” The tour is free with reserved museum admission; limited space is offered on a first-come basis.

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