Innovative Collection of Art and Wonders will offer historical context for worldwide marvels and curiosities-from armor to armadillos.
Baltimore–The Walters Art Museum will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its original Palazzo Building with the reinstallation of over 1,500 objects, largely from the museum’s Renaissance and Baroque collections, which includes one of the greatest troves of Italian paintings in North America. In galleries opening Oct. 22, paintings of the 14th through 18th centuries, some which have never been on view before, will be displayed with sculptures and decorative arts of the period. This reinstallation project finishes the task begun in October 2001 with the widely acclaimed renovations of the museum’s Centre Street Building, completing the renewal of founders William T. and Henry Walters’ legacies.
In this reinstallation, beloved Walters’ masterpieces by Raphael, El Greco, Bernini, Veronese, Pontormo and Cranach will be joined by recent acquisitions and works that have undergone dramatic conservation treatments. Another highlight will be the re-creation of a Collection of Art and Wonders as it might have been assembled by a 17th-century nobleman in Southern Netherlands (now Belgium): his entry hall of arms and armor, a private study with his most precious collections of portraits, bronze statuettes and antique models and a Chamber of Wonders, encompassing curiosities of nature and human ingenuity. These galleries will be complemented by rooms evoking an elegant Dutch residence around 1700.
“The goal for the centennial reinstallation is to take advantage of the redesigned galleries to present the museum’s world-class collections to their fullest potential,” said Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum. “This project will evoke the original manner in which the art was displayed, and in turn, provide for a clearer understanding of the art and a more personal and rewarding experience for the visitor.”
Major support for the renovation and reinstallation has been provided by the Richard C. von Hess Foundation, individual members of the Walters Board of Trustees, Baltimore County, AEGON, USA, the Women’s Committee of the Walters and the National Endowment for the Arts.
In the mid-19th century, William T. Walters (1819-94) began a remarkable art collection including 19th-century and Asian art as well as manuscripts and rare books. In 1902, his son, Henry (1848-1931)—a Baltimore railway magnate and art collector—made an acquisition on an unprecedented scale in the history of American collecting when he purchased in Rome the collections of Don Marcello Massarenti, a Vatican official, including over 1,700 works of art with masterpieces of European art from antiquity to the 19th-century. To house his rapidly expanding collections, Walters hired architect William Adams Delano who proposed a design featuring a covered central courtyard or palazzo, modeled after a 17th-century palazzo built by the Balbi family in Genoa.
This reinstallation project draws inspiration from the Walters’ highly successful, reinstalled Centre Street Building galleries where artworks were given a strong contextual display in an intimate environment. The Palazzo reinstallation benefits from the unique features of a building with extraordinary interior spaces. The goal of the Centennial reinstallation is to continue the high standard of art presentation in the lush, integrated settings for which the works were intended.
The monumental courtyard of a grand palace often served as the site for the display of the owner’s collection of ancient and modern sculptures, especially those with classical subjects demonstrating wealth and learning. Presented in this sky-light lit courtyard with paired columns, arches and a divided staircase are statues actually commissioned for Italian courtyards such as the magnificent marble statue of Apollo Victorious over the Python (1591) by Michelangelo’s follower Pietro Francavilla. A marble fountain-in which cavorts a bronze dwarf-also adds to the Italian courtyard atmosphere.
SECOND FLOOR GALLERIES
17th-Century Collection of Art and Wonders
A suite of three intimate galleries off the Palazzo Building’s courtyard will feature the most innovative component of the Walters’ reinstallation. These spaces recreate the collection of an imaginary Flemish nobleman in the Southern Netherlands in the 1600s.
“This installation in particular will offer visitors the rare opportunity to step back into the past and experience great art in a personal way,” said Joaneath Spicer, The James A. Murnaghan Curator of Renaissance and Baroque Art, who conceived of the reinstallation design. “The unexpected, intriguing diversity of objects in the Chamber of Wonders alone will inspire families, indeed all our visitors, to keep returning to the Walters to enjoy the remarkable manmade and natural treasures on view.”
Hall of Arms and Armor
In this entrance gallery, finely made arms and armor, arranged with the panache of 17th-century display, function as symbols of masculine virtue, power and continuity with past greatness, as well as works of artistic virtuosity and technology, and project the owner’s personal magnificence. This “hall” forms the entry to this suite of spaces, so a visitor must pass through them before visiting the rest of his collections. As a supporter of Archdukes Albert and Isabella and their successors as the Habsburg governors of Southern Netherlands, our imaginary nobleman identifies with the prestige and power of the Habsburg dynasty.
Chamber of Wonders
Many collectors of the time had a chamber (or at least a cabinet) with “wonders,” where they brought together natural history marvels with the most ingenious objects made by man. These collections were meant not only to create a basis for thinking seriously about the relationship between human inventiveness and the infinite variety and mystery of nature’s creations but also to be enjoyed. A model for aspects of the museum’s chamber is the Walters’ own fascinating painting The Archdukes Albert and Isabella Visiting a Collector’s Cabinet (ca. 1621) by Hieronymus Francken II and Jan Brueghel, with its walls covered with Flemish paintings and visitors intently studying the smaller works of art and natural curiosities on the table.
Amid great paintings and other superb works of art, visitors will discover themselves surrounded by an encyclopedic 17th-century Chamber of Wonders celebrating the interrelationship of the natural world and human achievements. The museum’s Chamber of Wonders is organized by themes: the realm of nature, the realm of human ingenuity and the realm of the collector. The hundreds of natural curiosities will include a 12-foot stuffed alligator, a sawfish bill and an immense “unicorn” horn. The 17th-century style display cases will hold natural materials such as minerals, pearls and shells from which art objects were fashioned, as well as a range of animal skulls and armored creatures such as the armadillo. At a work table, visitors can peer at a tray of beetles or study a text on “serpents.” All of the specimens have been acquired by sponsorships or gifts—many by children and families. The wonders of human ingenuity will include not only dazzling European works in gold, ivory or glass, but will create a dialogue with works from Africa, Asia and (what was then) the New World of the Americas.
This gallery evokes the atmosphere of the private study of a wealthy nobleman. Educated men from the merchant classes and the church, as well as nobles and scholars, spent leisure time with books and beautiful objects in a new type of personal space. As might be found in a 17th-century study of a prosperous collector, the walls are lined with cabinets, above which hang portraits of inspiring people from the past. Objects were studied as much as written material, and in the cabinets there will be choice treasures in different materials that the visitor is invited to compare. Visitors can also participate in the excitement of discovery by sitting at the nobleman’s desk and observing objects such as an Egyptian mummified cat, clocks, jewelry and splendid sculptures in ivory and gold.
The two serene Dutch galleries suggest the rich sensory ambience of an aristocratic residence of the 1690s at the end of the Dutch Golden Age during the time of William and Mary, who were joint rulers of the Dutch Republic and England. Decorative arrangements of Chinese porcelain and Dutch “Delft” earthenware reflect their tastes and aspects of the installation draw on their palaces. Paintings by Jan van Goyen, Jan Lievens and Cornelis van Poelenburch capture native pride in the countryside, the appeal of one’s surroundings and the importance of family. Over the mantle graced by a tulip vase hangs one of the more intriguing of the Walters’ Dutch paintings, Abraham Bloemaert’s Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (1624). From the Gospel of Matthew, the devil gets away with sowing weeds (or tares) in the wheat field because the workers are sleeping.
THIRD FLOOR GALLERIES
In the Walters’ grand third-floor galleries will be displayed late medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo paintings from Italy (with some from Spain and France).
In the 12th through early 15th centuries, the late middle ages to Renaissance in Italy, the erection of large public buildings provided opportunities for commissions of sculpture, altarpieces and frescoes. During this time there was a shift from depicting religious figures on flat backgrounds toward the direct appeal of emotion, use of contemporary costumes and settings and an interest in conveying the physical presence of revered figures. As demonstrated in the altarpiece The Virgin and Child with Saints and Angels (ca. 1342-48), Pietro Lorenzetti excelled at investing his sacred pictures with human qualities. Another example of this gothic style is Bicci di Lorenzo’s The Annunciation (ca. 1430), a rare and fully intact monumental altarpiece.
In the 15th century, the Renaissance (rebirth) was associated with the revival of interest in classical culture. Many commissions had religious themes, but the distinction between sacred and secular became more fluid, and linear perspective was developed. The seminal The Ideal City (ca. 1480-84), perhaps the most important painting in the Walters, demonstrates the mastery of central perspective, the revival of antiquity and the Renaissance ideal of urban planning. Over eight-feet tall, Michele Coltellini’s beautifully balanced work Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints (1506) is a rare Italian altarpiece emerging for the first time since its recent two year conservation treatment.
Beginning with the gallery devoted to the art of the 16th century, when art, including religious art, was displayed in the great reception rooms of private residences, paintings as well as decorative arts and furniture of the corresponding time periods will be displayed in a manner evoking the lush but stately palatial settings in which they would originally have been experienced.
In the 16th century, the high Renaissance, the human figure was imbued with a new sense of three-dimensional monumentality, gracefulness of movement and vividness of expression. Oil paints replaced 15th-century tempera paint, and chiaroscuro—modeling in light and shade—was used to give the painted surface a sense of real depth. The Walters’ breathtaking 16th-century gallery will include masters such as Raphael (Rafaello Sanzio) and Veronese (Paolo Caliari) as well as art created for the Medici family. Raphael’s tondo (circular painting), The Madonna of the Candelabra (ca. 1513), was the first Raphael Madonna to enter an American collection. Veronese, famous for his use of color and mastery of luxurious textures, painted an early example of the depiction of children as appropriate subjects in Portrait of Countess Livia da Porto Thiene and Her Daughter Porzia (ca. 1551).
Around 1600, the “baroque” style, characterized by dramatic naturalism, began to dominate painting and sculpture. The new style evolved in Italy and quickly spread to Spain and France as a vehicle for an aggressive response of the Catholic Church to the Protestant challenge to its authority and doctrine. Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the greatest sculptor of this age, was commissioned in 1673 to design figures for a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica. The bronze founder had problems casting The Risen Christ (1673-74) with the result that the initial bronze cast had a flaw. This cast, now repaired, is featured in the re-creation of the kind of private chapel that would be found in a grand residence. Other highlights include well known masterpieces by Guido Reni and Bernardo Strozzi and the Allegory of the Five Senses (ca. 1630), a monumental genre painting in the style of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio attributed to Pietro Paolini and purchased by the Walters in 2003.
In early 18th-century Italy, the Baroque style with its dramatic and dynamic compositions and earthy realism was gradually imbued with a lightness and grace influenced by French Rococo. Dominating this characteristic 18th-century style installation with paintings displayed almost to the ceiling will be Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s immense early masterpiece Scipio Africanus Freeing Massiva (1719-21). Tiepolo combined dramatic gesture, grand scale and classical architecture to create an arresting image of generosity and statesmanship.
Installed on the loggia surrounding the courtyard will be the Walters’ significant collection of maiolica, refined Italian Renaissance pottery with brilliant glazes, along with monumental glazed terracotta sculpture to which it is closely related, revealing surprising relationships between these two art forms.
Antenna Audio Guide
Included in the price of admission, the Walters will offer visitors an expanded Antenna Audio Guide of the museum’s permanent collection. Debuting in October 2001 with the reopening of the Centre Street Building, the guide will now include an additional 30 stops (for a total of 336).
The publication Masterpieces of Italian Painting: The Walters Art Museum, edited by Morten Steen Hansen and Joaneath Spicer, respectively Assistant Curator and The James A. Murnaghan Curator of Renaissance and Baroque Art, will be released in conjunction with the Palazzo Building reopening and published by the Walters Art Museum in association with D. Giles Ltd., London. This 176-page book features 50 catalogue entries with color images.
Admission and Hours
Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens (65+), $6 for college students with ID (18-25), $2 for children ages 6-17 and free for children under 6 and for members. Admission to the permanent collection is free on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-noon p.m. and all day on the first Thursday of every month. Museum hours are Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The museum is also closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The Walters will be open Monday and Tuesday, December 26 and 27 and is open on New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
The Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum is located in Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon Cultural District at North Charles and Centre streets. Its permanent collection includes ancient art, medieval art and manuscripts, decorative objects, Asian art and Old Master and 19th-century paintings. Peabody Court is the official hotel of the Walters Art Museum. For hotel reservations, call 1-800-292-5500.