The Walters Art Museum

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Joaneath Spicer

The James A. Murnaghan Curator of Renaissance and Baroque Art

Joaneath Spicer received her BA from Smith College and Ph.D. from Yale University (1979). After teaching at University of Toronto for over fifteen years, she came to the Walters in 1990. Reflecting a variety of interests, her publications range over Netherlandish drawings, art and science at the court of Rudolf II in Prague ca. 1600, body language, the Jewish community in Prague ca. 1600, tactility and the collecting of bronzes in the Renaissance, and Italian painting.  Her exhibitions include The Allure of Bronze (1995), Going for Baroque (1995, with Lisa Corrin), Bernardo Strozzi (1995), Masters of Light, Dutch Painters in Utrecht in the Golden Age (1997-98, with Lynn Orr), An Eye for Detail: 17th-Century Dutch and Flemish Paintings from the Collection of Henry T. Weldon (1999), Touch and the Enjoyment of Sculpture: the Appeal of Renaissance Statuettes (2012, with Steven Hsiao), and most recently Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe (2012-2013). In 1998-2005, she focused on re-installing the Renaissance and Baroque collections in a way intended to reflect the settings for the use and appreciation of the art in its own time, for example the acclaimed recreation of a 17th-century Chamber of Art and Wonders, now the most popular gallery in the museum.

Recent and Ongoing Departmental Projects

The African Presence in Renaissance Europe

The warm reception given the exhibition Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe, with its subtext of shared cultural heritage, has prompted planning for ways to confirm and expand this message in the galleries, publications (perhaps one on Africans in Renaissance Art at the Walters), and possibly the acquisitions within the department’s purview. This would make the Walters the only museum offering an experience of people of African ancestry in Renaissance Europe on an ongoing basis.  

Creating Digital Access to the Chamber of Art and Wonders

The suite of three galleries—Hall of Arms and Armor, Collector’s Study, and Chamber of Wonders—suggesting approaches to display appropriate to a nobleman in the 1600s in Northern Europe, is both historically quite accurate and the museum’s most visited spaces. Given the interest in the assembled objects, the experience of the spaces themselves, and the extensive research embedded there, it was decided not to pursue a printed catalogue but rather a website based on surround photography that would permit a “visitor” to enter the rooms and access objects and cascading levels of information, commentary, bibliography and links. Going forward, the project involves collaboration with Eva Helfenstein, Mellon Curatorial Post-doctoral Fellow, and the Walters departments of web design and IT.

Preparation for the Installation of The Story of Helen Series (37.1178-80)

Prompted by the need to remove the large-scale tapestry previously defining the Knight’s Hall gallery, the project will—with the assistance of Eva Helfensteinand the cooperation of the Department of Paintings Conservation—refashion the “hall” from one characteristic of Northern Europe to one characteristic of the later 1400s in Northern Italy. As conservation is completed, a contextual installation of a series of immense domestic spallere (paintings installed at “shoulder” height) done in the Veneto in the mid 1400s will be introduced. The most famous such series—as by Uccello—cannot be experienced as a unit, so this installation will provide a rare opportunity for visitors to experience an aspect of domestic decoration during the Renaissance.     

Exhibition on Renaissance Perspective featuring the Walters’ Ideal City Painting (37.677)

Preparations for such an exhibition (in conjunction with the museum in Urbino, Italy) begun several years ago were put on hold in order to pursue African Presence. With the working title “Renaissance Perspective and How It Changed Forever How We See,” the renewed proposal is provisionally imagined as charting the thrilling breakthroughs as Renaissance artists explored the intersecting insights of optics, math and visual representation that provided a new platform for the appreciation of reality, one compelling aspect of which would be bringing to Baltimore the related Ideal City painting in Urbino. The project will benefit greatly from the technical examinations and analysis carried out in the Department of Paintings Conservation under the supervision of Eric Gordon.

Research on the Rise of Painted Enamel during the 15th Century

The museum has an extensive collection of painted enamels, the majority executed during the highpoint of this technique from the end of the 15th into the 17th century, as practiced in the French city of Limoges. One of the earliest surviving example, the Walters’ Ara Coeli Medallion (44.462) from the early 15th century, is the departure point for an extended study of the technique and its aesthetic impact carried out by Eva Helfenstein (, collaborating with Terry Drayman-Weisser, Director of Conservation and Technical Research. A scholarly study day will be followed by a temporary installation on the art of enameling, focusing on technical and aesthetic aspects of the medium (December 2014 – March 2015).

The Walter’s 15th-century Rock Crystal Casket

The splendid rock crystal casket (57.695) displayed in the Chamber of Wonders is a very rare example of late medieval court art still in existence today. The absence of directly comparable objects emphasizes the necessity of a close examination of the piece itself, with special attention to the materials and workmanship. A study of the rock crystal casket, combining technical analysis with stylistic and contextual research, is currently undertaken by Eva Helfenstein and Terry Drayman-Weisser in consultation with Joaneath Spicer.

Henry Walters’s Acquisitions from Jacques Seligmann & Co. of Paris and New York

An investigation of the Jacques Seligmann & Co. papers preserved in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art is being carried out by Russell Sale PhD (, volunteer research associate. This has yielded documentation for virtually all the 250 artworks Henry Walters and his wife purchased from the firm before Walters’ death in 1931. These documented works must still be connected with those now or formerly in the Walters Art Museum, or with objects included in the sales of Mrs. Walters’ collection in the early 1940s. Outcomes will include the registering of relevant finds in museum records and the publication of an overview of these findings in The Journal of the Walters Art Museum.