Two eyeballs in a bowl. A piece of human liver in an eagle’s beak. A cat’s yawning mouth of hell.
The excitement is in the details of more than 70 works of art spanning six centuries in The Human Position: Old Master Works from the Permanent Collection, opening June 20.
“These are works we rarely show, so it’s going to open people’s eyes to what we have in the collection,” said Katharine Adkins, assistant curator of exhibitions. “They’re really beautiful paintings and many of them have a level of detail that will make people come back for more.”
The exhibition features paintings, sculptures and works on paper from the 14th through the 19th centuries, all from the Nasher Museum’s collection. All of the work is by European Old Masters, including Albrecht Dürer, Vicente Carducho, François Gérard, Daniel Seghers and more.
Museum staffers are busy in the galleries this week, choosing the perfect spot for each work of art and making discoveries in the process.
“Look at his foot, isn’t it amazing?” said Marianne Wardle, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Academic Programs.
She was examining the 1807 terracotta sculpture Prometheus and the Eagle by French artist Louis Delaville. When the sculpture is in storage or placed against a wall, she explained, it’s difficult to see the clenched toes and wrinkles on the bottom of Prometheus’ foot.
Several of the works in the exhibition were created by French academic artists, students in the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture who had won the coveted Prix de Rome, Wardle said. “I don’t think we realized we had so many things that related to each other in so many ways.”
The works in the exhibition cover the Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical periods of Old Master painting, and including moving religious scenes, detailed portraits, evocative landscapes and meticulous still lifes. The works illustrate the technical proficiency of Old Master artists, according to Molly Boarati, academic program coordinator.
“You can see how they relate to each other, maybe how artists influenced each other,” Boarati said, “and the development of styles over time.”
Adkins, Boarati and Wardle co-organized The Human Position, which will be on view through August 18, 2013.
The exhibition title was inspired by the 1938 poem by W. H. Auden, reproduced here:
Musée des Beaux Arts by W. H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Bruegel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
TOP: The projection of a 450-year-old painting by Vicente Carducho helps curators make final decisions on the placement of art in The Human Position. The real painting will arrive at the museum soon from an art conservator’s studio. Photo by J Caldwell.