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"Sacred and Profane Visions from Renaissance Venice"
2001-02-17 until 2001-07-22
Fogg Museum, Harvard
Cambridge, MA, USA

The Fogg Art Museum will showcase approximately 30 paintings, drawings, prints, and books by Venetian masters in Sacred and Profane Visions from Renaissance Venice. The exhibition will feature the altarpiece Sacra conversazione, or Virgin and Child with Saints and Donors, the most important example of its kind in New England and a recent acquisition to the Fogg Art Museum. Encompassing works by Titian, Vivarini, Bellini, Carpaccio, and Crivelli, Sacred and Profane Visions will showcase the Fogg Art Museum's rich collection of Venetian art, as well as loans from the Louvre, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and private collections. The depth of the material on view will allow students and scholars to explore the remarkable and complex activity of the Venetian workshop and how it flourished at the crossroads of diverse artistic traditions. Organized by Stephan Wolohojian, associate curator of paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts, the exhibition will premiere on February 17 and remain on view through July 22, 2001.

Sacred and Profane Visions speaks to the core of the Harvard University Art Museum's unique mission, said James Cuno, the Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums. The works from our permanent collection, complemented by important loans, will create a rich context for exploring this extraordinary nexus of artistic development and the renowned patrons who collected works from this tradition.

The new altarpiece, a monumental work created around 1515, provides an opportunity to explore the evolution of Venetian art in response to the innovations of masters such as Titian and Giorgione. Its origin remains a riddle: this Sacra conversazione has been attributed to Giovanni Bellini, Cima da Conegliano, and, most recently, to Luca Antonio Busati. Technical analysis by the Harvard University Art Museums' Straus Center for Conservation has revealed that the artist painted over part of the background, turning an open sky with cherubs into a lush landscape with elements directly copied from a print by Giulio Campagnola. The artist was thus integrating secular influences into a religious work. The painting, formerly in the Milanese collection of Giulio Ferrario, was acquired by Ian Woodner in 1962; it was a gift to the Art Museums from the Woodner Family Collection in New York.

The Sacra conversazione was produced at a moment of extraordinary innovation in Venice, said Wolohojian, the curator. This monumental altarpiece is the most important Italian painting acquired by the Fogg Art Museum in almost twenty-five years, and has allowed us to reexamine many works in our collection. Our study of the painting and of its bold fusion of a sacred image against a secular pastoral landscape has offered us new insight into this important period of artistic development. It is a work of great artistic and historical merit, distinguished also by its provenance.

The exhibition presents a unique opportunity to examine, in addition to this altarpiece, such important works as Titian's The Submersion of Pharaoh's Army in the Red Sea and Giulio Sanuto's Bacchanal in a Forest, a rare print that is another recent acquisition being exhibited for the first time. Sacred and Profane Visions will also feature The City of Jerusalem by Jacopo Bellini, which is on loan from the Louvre. This important work completes Belliniís Funeral Procession of the Virgin and is part of the Fogg's permanent collection. Both parts of this drawing will be on view together (until May 15) for the first time in over 100 years.

The Fogg's collection and the material highlighted in Sacred and Profane Visions include works distinguished by their exceptional provenance. These works, which previously belonged to some of the most important early admirers of Italian art, provide a platform for further examination of the importance of Venetian art in the nineteenth century. Bartolomeo Vivarini's Virgin and Child, c. 1475, once belonged to John Ruskin, and the copy of the celebrated book Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Polifiloís Strife of Love in a Dream, first printed in Venice in 1499, and assumed to be by Francesco Colonna) was given to Edward Burne-Jones by William Morris.


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