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Walters Presents A Feast for the Senses: Art and Experience in Medieval Europe

Features more than 100 objects from world-renowned collections

See also: curator's statement

Baltimore, MD – The Walters Art Museum presents A Feast for the Senses: Art and Experience in Medieval Europe, a major international loan exhibition that brings together more than 100 works including stained glass, precious metals, ivories, tapestries, paintings, prints, and illuminated manuscripts from 25 public and private collections in the U.S. and abroad, including the Walters’ extraordinary medieval collection. On view from October 16, 2016 through January 8, 2017, A Feast for the Senses explores how medieval works of art spoke to all the senses. Luminous stained glass windows, tapestries depicting fragrant gardens, chalices used in the Eucharist—these objects were not only seen, but were also, and at the same time, touched, smelled, tasted, and heard. The Walters is first of only two venues to host this extraordinary exhibition. Admission is free.

During the late medieval period—roughly the 12th to 15th centuries—religious and secular life mingled to the point that the boundaries between them become hard to distinguish: the delights of life and anticipation of heavenly reward were closely intertwined. The arts of the time reflect a new interest in human experience, the enjoyment of nature, and the pursuit of pleasure by evoking and celebrating beauty through all of the senses. While such pleasures were not directed exclusively toward spiritual enlightenment, religious practices were also defined by rich sensory experiences.

The exhibition evokes these not only through the works of art on view but also through specially designed sensory experiences, ranging from smells of roses and incense to the sounds of church bells and gardens, and the tactility of rosary beads.

“In many museums today, visitors experience the artworks by viewing them from afar in silent galleries. A Feast for the Senses will push the boundaries of the art museum by inviting visitors to encounter art with more than just their eyes,” says exhibition curator Martina Bagnoli (former Walters’ curator of medieval art, who is now executive director of the Gallerie Estensi in Modena, Italy).

Loans and Support

More than 25 museums and collections in the United States and abroad are lending works to the exhibition, including the British Museum, London; the Musée du Louvre, Paris; the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris; the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. The exhibition also includes masterpieces from the Walters’ renowned collection of medieval art, one of the most important in the United States

A Feast for the Senses has been organized by the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, in partnership with the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, and will be on view at the Ringling February 4 through April 20, 2017.

The exhibition received major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor; the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the National Endowment for the Arts; and anonymous donors, with additional support from the Gary Vikan Exhibition Fund, Nanci and Ned Feltham, and the Helen Hughes Trust. The accompanying catalogue was made possible by an anonymous donor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, or the National Endowment for the Arts.

This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Accompanying Publication

A generously illustrated catalogue presents new research in the developing field of sensory perception within art history. It includes essays by leading scholars exploring the themes of the exhibition through representations of religious practices, royal rituals, feasts and celebrations, and music and literature. Edited by exhibition curator Martina Bagnoli, the catalogue is published by the Walters Art Museum and distributed by Yale University Press. It is available for sale in the Walters Art Museum Store and online ($65, hardcover) beginning in mid-October.

Opening Day Event

A public opening day talk Symposium on the Senses in Medieval Culture will be held Sunday, October 16 at 1:30 p.m. Exhibition curator Martina Bagnoli, Walters’ in-house curator Joaneath Spicer, and other scholars will explore aspects of the role played by sensory perception in medieval culture that are both surprising and completely familiar to us today. A reception and book signing follow. Tickets are $10, and free for Walters members.

Related Programs

To involve visitors in the physical, sensory experiences of the exhibition and enhance the understanding of medieval art and culture, the Walters will present a range of programs from artmaking workshops to a family festival.

For a complete list of programs, visit thewalters.org/events.

The Walters’ Collection of Medieval Art

The Walters’ medieval collection is one of the richest and most important in the United States. Comprising paintings, wood, precious metals, stained glass, ivories, enamels, ceramics, tapestries, and manuscripts, the collection includes an extraordinary range of media. Spanning more than eleven centuries and covering much of northern Europe, the Mediterranean basin, Russia, and Ethiopia, the collection was assembled largely by Henry Walters (1848–1931).

About the Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum, located in downtown Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon Cultural District at North Charles and Centre Streets, is free and open to the public. At the time of his death in 1931, museum founder Henry Walters left his entire collection of art to the city of Baltimore. Its collection includes ancient art, medieval art and manuscripts, decorative objects, Asian art, and Old Master and 19th-century paintings. The Museum Store offers distinctive gifts, jewelry and books based on the museum’s collections.

Free admission to the Walters Art Museum is made possible by the combined generosity of individual members and donors, foundations, corporations, and grants from the City of Baltimore, Maryland State Arts Council, Citizens of Baltimore County, Howard County Government and Howard County Arts Council.

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