ISLAMIC ARTS: A PAST FOR A PRESENT
An ambitious programme of 18 simultaneous exhibitions has now opened in France, celebrating spectacular works of Islamic art, and the cultural connections between the Islamic world and France over the past 1,300 years. The event is co-produced by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux–Grand Palais and the Louvre, but takes place in different cities across the country, in museums, libraries, and multimedia centres from Angoulême to Tourcoing. Each venue’s display presents ten pieces, with older exhibits (ranging from the 7th to the 19th centuries) joined by a work by a contemporary artist, including video art.
Islamic Arts draws from the Louvre’s collections and the collections of other French institutions to build a rich picture of various artistic activities in the Islamic world. It is not a homogenous picture, as the works highlight both cultural and religious diversity, and the circulation of both ideas and people across a large area. Scientific objects like astrolabes used by astronomers to study the stars, clothing, and a ceramic bird show that, while there are some beautiful Qurans and quranic inscriptions in objects like a architectural frieze, this art comes from many different contexts, secular as well as religious.
Luxury goods feature in the exhibitions, with ivory, rock crystal, fine ceramics, silks, and more making up the diverse mix of materials. Exquisite textiles are on view, for example, at the Bibliothèque Abbé-Grégoire in Blois, where a remarkable late 11th-/12th-century silk liturgical garment from the Church of St Mexme is one of the highlights. It is thought to have been made in Iraq or Spain and its iconography refers to the princely pastime of hunting.
This fragile textile reflects how Islamic artists were much admired in Christian Europe, something that is also explored in Dijon Museum of Fine Arts, where ivory boxes that belonged to the Duchess of Burgundy are displayed. Such skilled work in ivory is an excellent showcase for the talent of its creator, as is the refined glass enamelled bottle from 16th-century Egypt, also on view at Dijon.
Multiple venues Until 27 March 2022 https://expo-arts-islam.fr
GRAND TOUR: Dream of Italy from Venice to Pompeii
In the 17th century, priest and tutor to several young English noblemen Richard Lassels wrote the travel book An Italian Voyage, in which he used the term ‘the Grand Tour’. This Grand Tour was something of a cultural phenomenon between the late 17th and early 19th century, where male members of the European elite – academics, artists, architects, aristocrats – set off to Italy, to finish off their education in art and culture, and enjoy festivities and carnivals. Italy, the ‘Bel Paese’ had much to offer (as it still does): beautiful scenery with mountains, lakes, rolling Tuscan hills, and jewel-like coastline; towns and cities with art-filled medieval churches and Renaissance palaces; and, of course, mighty ruins of antiquity, both in Rome and elsewhere, with excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii taking place from the 18th century.
This exhibition, organised by Intesa Sanpaolo in partnership with the National Archaeological Museum of Naples and the State Hermitage Museum of St Petersburg, brings works from the Intesa Sanpaolo collection together with those from numerous other collections, both in Italy and beyond, to examine the Grand Tour and its leading figures. Artworks on show capture the places that were popular with the Grand Tourists. Paintings of the canals of Venice and Romantic scenes of landscapes with ruins by the likes of Canaletto and Hubert Robert were collected by those who made the voyage, as were ancient sculptures (some restored), and furnishings inspired by antiquity (like those of Piranesi). Modern sculpture influenced by the ancient world, including the works of Canova, became popular, and portraits were commissioned by travellers from artists including Pompeo Batoni, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, and Angelica Kauffman. All these types of work are on view, recreating Italy, both an open museum and an art market, through the eyes of those who visited and of its artists.
Gallerie d’Italia Until 27 March 2022 www.gallerieditalia.com
Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist
Born in Nuremberg in 1471, the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer travelled at various stages throughout his career: to the Alps and northern Italy in the mid-1490s, to Venice in 1505-1507, and to the Low Countries in 1520-1521. These journeys offered chances to meet patrons and leading figures both in art and other spheres, such as the scholar Erasmus, but also to study and observe different subjects, for instance clothing of different regions. On his trip to the Low Countries he even studied a lion in a royal menagerie – Dürer’s earlier lions were based on heraldic imagery, as seen in the 1494 gouache work on parchment, heightened with gold, A Lion (shown above). This exhibition, organised with the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen, draws together paintings, exceptional drawings, and woodcuts by Dürer that help tell the story of these travels and their influence. Letters and notes are included: one written from Venice tells of the jealousy of Venetian artists towards Dürer, who was renowned as a draughtsman and printmaker. They had argued that he couldn’t handle colour, but, he says, the success of an altarpiece he painted in the city quickly quietened them.
National Gallery, London
Until 27 February 2022
It was not until later in his life, in 1829, that painter John Constable (1776-1837) was elected a Royal Academician. This exhibition at the Royal Academy looks at Constable’s output in these later years, from 1825 until his death. His exhibition pieces from this period are on view, as are works that show his forays into printmaking, with a series of mezzotints based on his paintings. His interest in ruins later in life is reflected by an evocative 1835 watercolour Stonehenge, with two rainbows in the intense blue sky (above right). Known for his scenes of the Suffolk countryside and fascination with the sky, clouds, and rainbows, Constable recorded the Wiltshire landscape too – not just Stonehenge, but Salisbury Cathedral (in oil) and Old Sarum (in watercolour). In the latter picture, a thin strip of paper has been added so the scene could include a rainbow.
Royal Academy of Arts, London
Until 13 February 2022
Ancient Greeks: Science and Wisdom
Organised to celebrate the bicentenary of Greek independence in 1821, this exhibition looks at science in the ancient Greek world. Under the auspices of Athena – the goddess of wisdom, who appears on a beautiful gold headdress – as well as of Apollo and the Muses, the exhibition offers an introduction to different areas where science played a part, among them shipbuilding and seafaring (represented by a large statue of Hermes from the Antikythera wreck), natural history (with a series of plates showing different fish), and harmonies and ratios in music (with a rare surviving example of an aulos on view). Perhaps the highlight of the exhibition is a small, shiny silver celestial globe from 300-100 BC, depicting 48 constellations, beautifully illustrating how study of the night sky was valued (below).
Science Museum, London
Until 5 June 2022
Melancholy: A new anatomy
In his 1621 work The Anatomy of Melancholy, Oxford scholar Richard Burton drew attention to the role of diet and exercise, sleep, and green spaces in mental health, things that are still discussed 400 years later. The encyclopaedic book was a great success, with five revised editions appearing in the 17th century. Fittingly for an exhibition held at a library, the concepts of therapeutic reading and therapeutic writing are explored. For Burton, working on the book provided a distraction from his melancholy. As well as early an edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy, exhibits include a Russian copy of The Pickwick Papers, read by a soldier during the Crimean War, Mary Shelley’s Journal of Sorrow, and the first issue of The Hydra, a magazine written by and for patients of Craiglockhart War Hospital.
The Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford
Until 20 March 2022
ROMANS: Edge of Empire
Archaeological finds from Perth and Kinross are on display in this exhibition, which examines how people in ancient Scotland lived alongside, fought, and were influenced by the Roman Empire, whose northern boundary, the Antonine Wall, stretched between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde. Running alongside Romans: edge of empire is The Antonine Wall: beyond boundaries, featuring replicas by craftspeople of some artefacts discovered along this wall, among them a Roman wine barrel, an African-style portable cooker, and a piece of ‘tartan’ from the Iron Age.
Perth Museum and Art Gallery
Until 6 February 2022
POMPEII IN COLOR: the life of roman wall Painting
When Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 destroying Pompeii, Herculaneum, and nearby towns, it preserved a wealth of delicate Roman frescoes under its ashes. Organised by the National Archaeological Museum, Naples, and MondoMostre, this exhibition showcases 35 wall-paintings from Roman homes taken from the Neapolitan museum’s collection, as well as some painters’ tools used to create these marvellous frescoes. Mythological scenes, landscapes, architectural structures, still-lifes – as seen in these 1st-century AD fragments from Herculaneum (above) – portraits, and more adorned the walls of well-appointed houses.
Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York
26 January to 29 May 2022
The African Origin of Civilization
The influence of ancient Egypt on the Mediterranean world, including trade with Greece and Rome, is well established, but perhaps less widely acknowledged is Egypt’s important place in and relationship with the rest of the African continent. This is seen, for example, in the way that Egyptian art is often treated is a separate entity in museums, and not included in galleries of African art. This exhibition presents pairings of works from Egypt with examples from West and Central Africa to draw attention to the exchange of materials and ideas between Egypt and other parts of Africa, and to highlight parallels and contrasts between the works, created across five millennia in materials including gold, stone, wood, and ceramic. One example of a pairing is the Egyptian sculpture of The Royal Acquaintances Memi and Sabu (c.2575-2465 BC; above) with one by a Dogon artist in Mali, Seated Couple (18th-early 19th century; below).
This exhibition of 21 pairings will be on view while The Met’s galleries of Sub-Saharan African Art are closed during the renovation of the wing they reside in. They are expected to reopen in 2024.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
From 14 December 2021
The Stories We Wear
Clothing plays an important part of life – whether comfortable loungewear paired with a smart shirt for video calls while working from home, protective hard hats for on-site jobs, an actor’s costume, or glittering regalia to show a ruler’s power. This exhibition explores the stories that emerge from the objects people have worn over 2,500 years, including the gold adornments a Coclé ruler was buried with in ancient Panama around AD 750-1000 (shown below), a Scythian headdress, the traditional wedding attire of a Hopi bride, a Givenchy gown worn by Grace Kelly, and a Philadelphia Eagles linebacker’s uniform.
Penn Museum, Philadelphia
Until 12 June 2022
Falcons: The Art of the Hunt
Falcons, fierce birds of prey, have played an important part in a number of cultures around the world. In ancient Egypt, for example, they were the bird of Horus, god of the heavens. Their impressive ability to catch small prey saw them trained as hunting companions in the royal courts of early 8th-century Syria. This sport of falconry spread far and wide over the centuries, as reflected in the falcon-related paintings and objects spanning from Egypt to China in this exhibition. It was a popular pastime for the nobility of medieval England, practised in the Byzantine Empire, and many societies still hunt with falcons today.
National Museum of Asian Art, Washington DC
15 January to 17 July 2022
Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes
Competing in athletics, in theatrical festivals, and in warfare was an integral part of ancient Greek society, as reflected by the more than 170 objects from the British Museum on view in this touring exhibition. A figurine of two women playing knucklebones; bronze armour; and a painting of a foot race on a Panathenaic prize amphora (shown below) all illustrate a competitive spirit that could be deadly, sporting, or playful. Previously on view at the Western Australian Museum, Ancient Greeks will travel to the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand (10 June to 16 October 2022) after its run at the National Museum of Australia.
National Museum of Australia, Canberra
17 December 2021 to 1 May 2022
The Buddha Up Close
Tracing the history of Buddhism from its origins, this exhibition brings together some stunning free-standing sculptures, carved reliefs, paintings, manuscripts, and printed texts produced in different countries where the religion spread. With a range of material from the collections of its organisers, the Museum Rietberg Zürich and the National Gallery Prague, it explores the variety in the depictions of the Buddha in different regions, episodes in his life that proved popular with artists (such as his temptation by the demon Mara in a 3rd- to 4th-century carving from the Gandhara Region, Pakistan; shown below), and the importance of the two main schools, Theravada and Mahayana.
Waldstein Riding School, National Gallery, Prague
Until 24 April 2022
The Theater of Objects by Daniel Spoerri
The work of artist Daniel Spoerri (born 1930) – and his relationship with objects – is in the spotlight in this exhibition that features more than 150 artworks and archival documents. Spoerri’s best-known works are his ‘snare pictures’, assemblages of objects, including the remnants of a meal fixed on to a tabletop then hung on a wall. These works hint at the artist’s interest in the culinary arts. In 1983, for example, he hosted a banquet beside a large trench, in which the tables, plates, and leftovers were buried; they were then excavated by French archaeologists in 2010. As well as the snare pictures, the exhibition includes Spoerri’s 1986 work The Holy Family (from the ‘Treasures of the poor’ series), a vast assemblage made out of a polyester tapestry, artifical plants, a doll, and a neon sign glued on a wooden board (shown below).
Until 27 March 2022
The Flames: The Age of Ceramics
The production of ceramic stretches far back into prehistory. The millennia-long life of this medium is surveyed in this wide-ranging exhibition that features more than 350 pieces from the Neolithic to the present day. Together, the exhibits shed light on different techniques involved in working in ceramics and the uses of the material, not just for decoration or dining, but also in medicine, aeronautics, and ecology. Neolithic statuettes, ancient Greek vases, Tang dynasty figures from China, and raku ware from Japan are on view, along with works by modern artists like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Judy Chicago, and Takuro Kuwata, whose beautiful porcelain and enamel Bowl (2014) is shown below.
PARIS Museum of Modern Art
Until 6 February 2022
STONE AGE CONNECTIONS: Mobility in Ötzi’s time
In 1991, the natural mummy of a man who lived sometime between c.3350 and 3105 BC was discovered frozen in the Alps on the border between Austria and Italy. Now known as Ötzi the Iceman, this man was found with parts of his clothing still surviving, and objects including an axe, a knife, and a quiver of arrows. Analysis of some of these objects reveals where they come from: for example, the copper for the axes came from Tuscany, and the flint for some of the tools from around Lake Garda. Also using DNA analyses and study of pottery, this exhibition explores mobility of materials, knowledge, and people in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC.
South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology
Until 7 November 2022
Archaeological Treasures from Romania: Dacian and Roman Roots
Organised to mark the 140th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Romania and Spain, this exhibition brings spectacular artefacts from Romania to the Spanish capital. With a wide range of natural resources, and access to the Black Sea and the Danube River, the land that is now Romania was well connected and well provided for. As well as artefacts from Romanian museums, pieces from Spanish institutions are on view, reflecting the cultural connections of ancient Romania, which was placed at the crossroads of the Mediterranean world, Asia, and Europe. Starting with the late Hallstatt and Scythian cultures, around the 8th-7th century BC, the exhibition charts the history of Romania up until the invasions of Germanic peoples in the 4th-7th centuries AD. Particular attention is paid to Dacia as a Roman province between AD 106 and 171, after Trajan’s Dacian Wars. Highlights include the ornate rhyton from Poronia Mare (c.325-275 BC) that is shown below.
National Archaeological Museum, Madrid
Until 27 February 2022