National Gallery to host papal art exhibit

By 
  • March 16, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Canadians will get the chance to see the differences in art patronage by popes of the 16th century at a rare exhibition this summer at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

The gallery will host From Raphael to Carracci, the Art of Papal Rome, an exhibition which will gather together 150 works of art which have rarely been seen outside of Italy or appeared together at one time.

The exhibit was announced at a Toronto news conference hosted by the National Gallery of Canada Feb. 26.
About half of the works will have a religious theme, while the remainder display other artistic influences in Roman society at that time.

“Artists weren’t just trying to create works of art but acting narratives,” said David Franklin, chief curator and deputy director of the National Gallery of Canada. “This represents a time when Rome was the artistic capital of the world.”

Franklin said art historians have often evaded trying to synthesize art from that period because patronage of different popes caused an ever-changing influence.

“This is a rare opportunity and also an opportunity to see the strategies of the popes in the 16th century who believed strongly in the individual arts because they brought power and prestige to Rome,” Franklin said. “So we’ll look at each pope one by one. Each room will have its own ambience (as) each papal regime had a different character, had a very different artistic style, was very different in ambition, had different types of projects. Some were more interested in classical art, some in more high religious themes.”

The works will come from a variety of lenders including the Louvre, the Vatican Museums and Library, Queen Elizabeth, the French embassy in Rome and more, as well as some works acquired by the gallery in recent years. Visitors can expect to see rare works by well-known artists Michelangelo, Raphael, Giorgio Vasari, Federico Barocci and Annibale Carracci as well as lesser-known artists from that time.

The tension between artistic expression using the human body and church rules on decency also become evident in the later part of the century, Franklin said.

“The (earlier) popes owned a lot of secular art in their collections because they were able to collect some of these pieces,” Franklin said.

Many pieces in the Vatican, he added, were later painted over with banners to hide the genitals of some nude figures.

Fr. Peter Larisey, S.J., a lecturer on religion and art at Toronto’s Regis College, said the exhibit would be worthwhile for everyone to see, regardless of pieces that might show the full human form.

“There was a respect in Renaissance art for the human body because Christ came as a human,” he said. “Our human nature is an image of God and this is what the artists tried to portray.”

Larisey added that art became more censored with the Council of Trent from 1545-1563. The council, among other things, established rules to ensure didactic art in churches rather than art that was more mystical.

“Basically, there was a shift in the church that amounted into a refocussing of energies as she dealt with the Lutheran and Anglican Reforms — she moved from rejoicing in the Renaissance and its beauties to clarifying its other teachings.”

The exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada will run from May 29 to Sept. 7.

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