Making Art Exhibits Relatable

When I wrote about famous pieces of artwork on display at The Ringling in Sarasota, Fla., I knew I had to make it accessible.

I’m not a fine art critic. And I didn’t want to make a trip to museum sound like a country club affair.

So, I rely on the sources leading the exhibit to tell me about the art in their words, why it’s important and make a connection with today, and pop culture references help.

The first piece compares Veronese’s process to celebrity chefs. The second piece focuses on why The Ringling hosting a Peter Paul Rubens exhibit is significant.

Paolo Veronese Exhibit Shows How Renaissance Artist Is Like A Celebrity Chef

Paolo Veronese: A Master and His Workshop in Renaissance Venice opens Friday at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.
Paolo Veronese Exhibit Shows How Renaissance Artist Is Like A Celebrity Chef

Paolo Veronese is like the Gordon Ramsay of Renaissance artists but without the attitude.

Imagine Veronese getting an order placed, then calling out instructions to his staff to get to work, much like a celebrity chef making sure his well trained culinary team can execute a menu to perfection and being able to show off in the process.

“A Renaissance artist workshop is a bit like a fancy restaurant run by a celebrity chef,” said Frederick Ilchman, Curator of Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston during a walk-through of a new Veronese exhibit that opens Friday at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. “…Paolo Veronese was supervising a hell of activity, and he had family members and a bunch of his assistance following his recipes. The point is that when you go to a fancy restaurant, it’s not like the chef is actually cooking for you, but guaranteeing that chef’s style.”

That’s pretty much this Venetian Renaissance painter in a nutshell. Though instead of yelling “fat cow” at his staff like Ramsay, Veronese would probably paint a cow, like in Rest on the Flight into Egypt, which is contained in The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art’s collection and is John Ringling’s first Old Master painting he acquired.

Paolo Veronese: A Master and His Workshop in Renaissance Venice opens Friday and runs through April 14 inside Ringling’s Ulla R. and Arthur F. Searing Wing.

Like a signature ingredient, Veronese would find certain elements or subjects in his paintings that he would reuse for efficiency and effect, too, to help churn out the works that, well, work.

Veronese would make sure his workers would complete brush strokes to reflect sheen or convey the depth of clothing a certain way in paint, Ilchman said.

“Veronese is just a master of open textures,” he said.

What’s the Renaissance way of showing off in art? Veronese was one of the first artists of his time to paint full body portraits of nobleman showing off the grandeur of nobles, which can be seen in Portrait of Francesco Franceschini. In those days, you had better be a king, queen or pope to have a portrait of you standing head to toe.

The 1551 painting is believed to be Veronese’s first known surviving, full-standing portrait and happens to be in Ringling’s collection. Oh, and the artist was only 23 years old when he complete the work.

“When I think about what I was doing at 23, it certainly wasn’t at that scale,” Brilliant said.

Even painting the chic black clothing of the time and conveying the textures was a show-off move for Veronese, Brilliant added.

Beside it stands the work of a Veronese pupil, Giovanni Antonio Fasolo to show how much Veronese’s style was instilled in his collaborators. The key in many of Veronese works is that Veronese didn’t take all the credit for his work. His collaborators would also sign the work, Ilchman said.

Brilliant said she was in awe how Veronese could get a handle on such a large staff that included his brother and son.

“That in a way is more extraordinary than being the lone painter up in the garret,” Brilliant said. “It takes a huge degree of discipline and diplomacy.”

Much like Veronese’s works, the exhibit itself was a collaborative effort between Brilliant and Ilchman where the two struck up a conversation over the painter over drinks at a museum conference in 2008.

Ilchman was familiar with Rest on the Flight into Egyptbeing in Ringling’s collection and as the two brainstormed, they decided to work together to bring Veronese’ works from North America to a one-city show here in Sarasota featuring some works never seen in a public exhibit.

Works from private collections plus the National Gallery of Art, Havard Art Museums, Cleveland Museum of Art, J. Paul Getty Museum of the National Gallery of Canada have all loaned works to the exhibit.

As visitors stroll through the exhibit, they’re taken into themed areas instead of taking a chronological journey. In one room, his full-standing portraits, altar panel works in another, Biblical paintings and his collaborators’ works.

The art is also displayed in a way to provide the proper context and perspective that it was meant to be seen.

From panels that would appear high on Venetian buildings, ceilings or altar panels in a palladium inspired splendor, Brilliant said.

“We tried to pull the architecture and stenography in the paintings and out here in the galleries, and we actually done it using things from the Ringling’s own collection,” Brilliant said while gesturing toward a column.

Then there are pieces that are just so large, you cannot move them to another museum. So instead, the museum has a 7-foot by 8-foot photograph of the Galleria dell’Accademia in Venice featuring a large wall-to-wall piece of Veronese as museum patrons observe the works.

“You see people looking at these things and continuing to be in awe of them and loving them just as we are hoping you, too, will have that reaction when you come to this show,” Brilliant said.

Rubensesque Size Exhibit at Ringling Museum

A vast collection of works by Flemish Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens is on display at the Ringling Museum of Art, which has several special pieces on loan from the Royal Museum of Fine Art in Antwerp.


Rubensesque Size Exhibit at Ringling Museum

Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens was quite the machine in his day.

The works of the painter, who are on display starting today at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, are so varied and vast, the museum’s Rubens expert Dr. Virginia Brilliant says it’s OK if you don’t take it all in on one day.

“This has a lot to offer and one shouldn’t be obliged to look at everything in one visit,” Brilliant said laughing. “My idea would be come in here, look at a few things and go have an ice cream at the Banyan Café and then come back some other time.

Here are just some of Rubens’ themes you can explore:

• Iconography

• Prints

• Use of copyright

• Portraits

• Rubenesque works (the term coined after Rubens’ love of painting nude, full-figure ladies)

• Engravings, etchings and woodcuts

The Rubens Gallery in the Ulla R. and Arthur F. Searing Wing is interspersed with works from the Ringling family’s own collection, to which John Ringling was a dedicated Rubens collector, and pieces on loan from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp.

The collection is so important to the art world, Gov. Rick Scott stopped by the museum Thursday night for a reception and welcoming the Antwerp officials.

“The Rubens are unbelievably beautiful pieces of art. They’re so vibrant,” Scott said. “It’s great to have a partnership with Antwerp.”

The exhibit was 11 years in the making when Antwerp Vice Mayor for Culture and Tourism Philip Heylen visited family staying in Sarasota and decided to see the Ringling Museum after being sick of the beach, he joked.

“I come in there and all of a sudden I’m overwhelmed by what I see — the Series of the Eucharist,” Heylen said. “I fell madly in love with this museum.”

The actual work began six years ago, shortly after Heylen became vice mayor in Antwerp and starting forging a partnership with the museum and worked with officials there who also traveled to Ringling Thursday, Dr. Paul Huvenne, administrator-general of the Royal Museum of  Fine Arts, Antwerp and Bruno Verbergt, the executive director of Antwerp’s culture, sports and youth.

For Antwerp, Rubens is still “the most important ambassador” according to Heylen.

“He put Antwerp on the international level of the city of Baroque to the north,” he added.

Brilliant felt that this was the museum’s one chance to go big displaying the museum’s own Rubens works in a significant way.

“This was the only time we were ever going to include them, show them, talk about them in a meaningful way,” she said. “I thought better to go big than go home.”

“It’s Rubenesque,” chimed in Maureen Zaremba, curator of education at the museum.

America is still relatively new to appreciate Flemish Baroque, Huvenne said.

“There was a long tradition of collecting Dutch art, but Flemish art really had a late start in the U.S. collection with one big exception — Sarasota,” he said. “When the Ringlings bought those magnificent paintings.”

Interestingly enough, Ringling’s advisors didn’t understand why John Ringling wanted to buy the pieces, but Ringling insisted and said he would build a special room to display the large Triumph of the Eucharist series, according to Brilliant’s book, Triumph & Taste: Peter Paul Rubens At The Ringling Museum of Art.

Rubens the Entrepreneur

Part of what makes the exhibit special is the prints displayed. Rubens saw the opportunity to make money by offering prints of his works he created because more people could have a piece of art that they normally couldn’t see because it was made for some royals or placed in a covenant.

“Print making was like television of the 16th and 17th centuries,” Huvenne said.

And what better place to do it than Antwerp, which was like the Hollywood for the Spanish crown of the 16th and 17th centuries, Huvenne said, where large, high-quality arts projects would be completed.

Instead of spending his own time creating each one, Rubens would hire people to recreate the works, yet, he would still labor over those workers, editing and proofing the prints until perfected. And not all were perfect.

One of the pieces in the collection is a print proof and you can see redish ink from Rubens correcting the print telling the print maker to add more shadows.

He also created his own copyright system. Instead of signing his name, he would use a formula of copyrighted with privileges from the Spanish Crown, then the Belgium ruler at the time.

Roughly translated, one print says: “With privileges, of the Most Christian Kingdom, the Prince of Belgium, and the Northern Netherlands”

“After the arch duke died, the formula changes a little bit but it always starts with cum privilegia, or with privileges,” Brilliant said. If it doesn’t have that, it’s not a supervised print, she added.

Brilliant said it’s believed that Rubens was the only artist at that time to create such a copyright system.

And all that is just a tiny part of the vast Rubens Galleries at Ringling Museum.

Time for some ice cream, Dr. Brilliant?

The Rubens Galleries’ Peter Paul Rubens: Impressions of a Master exhibit will be on display through June 3. General admission to the museum is $25, $20 for seniors 65 and up, $5 for children 6-17 and college students with valid student ID.

For complete list of activities, read Ringling To Host Several Rubens Events Highlighting Galleries


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