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With a Curious Eye. Mannerist Painting from the National Museum in Warsaw

With a Curious Eye. Mannerist Painting from the National Museum in Warsaw

Time: 21.10.17–25.02.18  10:00–17:00
Location: Kadriorg Art Museum

The exhibition, as the title indicates, is inspired by curiosity: an opportunity to gain insight into the collection of another museum and introduce a selection of 16th–17th century Netherlandish paintings from the abundant collection of the National Museum in Warsaw to the local public. The title also alludes to the era from which the artworks originate. This period was characterised by the discovery of celestial bodies, various lands and new species of animals and plants, as well as inventions and the systematic gathering of knowledge, collections of curiosities and antique objects, art cabinets, and a deep curiosity about the world around us. In addition to the works from the Warsaw museum, Netherlandish paintings from the Kadriorg Museum will also be on display, which allows the few works in the Art Museum of Estonia collection to be placed in a wider context, and to be displayed as part of a narrative that would otherwise be fragmentary and limited.               

Mannerism is an art phenomenon that developed in Italy around the 1520s, and by the second half of the century it had spread throughout Europe. While in Italy this emphatically aesthetic art trend had exhausted itself by the third quarter of the 16th century, Mannerism remained vital in many places in northern Europe until the mid-17th century.

In the fine arts, the central trait of this style is its artistry. The requirement to imitate nature as objectively as possible, which had been the rule before, was abandoned. Instead, subjectivity was visibly emphasised. The human body became a form of expression in art. Examples include stretched-out or distorted muscular bodies, often in unnatural twisted poses. The paintings are characterised by artificial colours. These techniques were used knowingly by the artists as a means of expression in order to better present their ideas. In a way, the artworks are characterised by staged fantasy-rich compositions that recall theatrical scenery and the use of a complicated pictorial idiom. Along with traditional biblical and classical themes, complicated allegories and ambiguous themes were favoured. As in most areas of Europe, the art of the era was closely associated with court culture, and it reflected court tastes: an interest in curiosities, the erotic, cultivated and graceful manners, and a luxurious, even extravagant life-style.

Italy – primarily Rome, Venice and Florence – was the art centre of the 16th century, where art students and artists from all over Europe congregated. Throughout their future careers, they drew upon what they had seen and learned there. The artistic ideas travelled along with the artists and altered opposing inter-cultural fields of influence. These ideas were also spread via works of art, in which graphic art played a central role. Mannerism dominated in the Netherlands from 1550 to 1620. The bourgeois urban culture of the Netherlands provided a distinctive interpretation of Mannerism, by combining the new style and its motifs with the local pictorial tradition, which valued detailed depiction and applied a strong moralising Christian subtext to seemingly erotic pictures.

The exhibition is accompanied by an impressive catalogue, international seminar (20.11.2017) and diverse public programme.

Curator: Greta Koppel
Co-curator Aleksandra Janiszewska (National Museum in Warsaw)

Jacob de Backer. The Last Judgement. Ca 1589. National Museum in Warsaw