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Fresh Take

Three of the Northern European galleries get a new look
Marjorie E. Wieseman, Paul J. and Edith Ingalls Vignos Jr. Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture, 1500–1800
October 19, 2018
Violin Player with a Wine Glass, 1623. Dirck van Baburen (Dutch, c. 1595–1624). 2018.25

In late November, galleries 213–15 will temporarily close to prepare for a new permanent collection installation. Although the focus remains on the arts of the Netherlands, Germany, Central Europe, and France from about 1600 to 1725, the galleries will be completely redesigned in order to explore the contexts in which these pieces might originally have been displayed: an upper middle-class home; an ecclesiastical setting, such as a church or private chapel; or an aristocratic French collection. The new displays feature additional objects from the permanent collection, including several important recent acquisitions. This initiative realizes a key goal of the museum’s strategic plan: to continually refashion the permanent collection displays, keeping them vivid, fresh, and inspiring. The reinstallation of the Northern European galleries has been made possible through the support of the newly created Sally and Sandy Cutler Strategic Opportunities Fund.

Currently hung with predominantly 17th-century Dutch paintings, gallery 213 will now focus on the types of paintings and decorative arts that might have been found in the home of a wealthy Dutch family around 1650. Having recently won independence from Spain, the Dutch Republic (modern-day Netherlands) was proud of its identity as an independent, democratic, and relatively secular society in which success was measured by ingenuity and hard work, rather than by noble birth or ecclesiastical favor. Accordingly, much of the art produced and collected during this period focused on portraits, landscapes, still lifes, and genre scenes: real, tangible subjects that had relevance for ordinary citizens. Frans Hals’s Portrait of Tieleman Roosterman, for example, depicts the wealthy textile merchant as a vibrant individual who was probably heavily involved in the day-to-day running of his successful business empire. The global reach of Dutch mercantile and seafaring empires is suggested in the presence of blue-and-white ceramics imported to the Netherlands from China and Japan, as well as the local Delft earthenware they inspired. Landscapes by Jan van Goyen, Meindert Hobbema, Jacob van Ruisdael, and their contemporaries, on the other hand, largely celebrate the subtle pleasures of the Dutch countryside. Van Goyen’s serene View of Emmerich captures the country’s typically flat, watery topography, stretched beneath a towering cloud-filled sky. Among the new acquisitions on display is Dirck van Baburen’s Violin Player with a Wine Glass. Baburen, one of the leading Dutch followers of Caravaggio, was renowned for his bold depictions of lusty, vivacious street performers resounding with infectious joie de vivre—qualities richly apparent in the CMA’s painting.

A different kind of domestic environment takes center stage in the reinstalled gallery 215: here, the display will evoke the private spaces of French aristocracy of around 1725. During this period in France, the development of the fine and decorative arts was integral to the reign of Louis XIV (r. 1654–1715), the “Sun King,” who styled himself not only absolute monarch but also absolute arbiter of taste. “There is nothing that indicates more clearly the magnificence of great princes than their superb palaces and their precious furniture,” the king proclaimed; he employed highly skilled cabinetmakers, or ébénistes, to produce exceptional veneered and marquetried case furniture, such as tables, cabinets, and commodes, or chests of drawers. The esteemed royal cabinetmaker André-Charles Boulle is represented with a stunning cabinet, richly ornamented with his signature technique of metal marquetry (brass or pewter inlaid on tortoiseshell) and gilt-bronze mounts. A remarkable suite of furnishings from the Savonnerie carpet manufactory (also under royal patronage) is represented by a magnificent wall hanging and four upholstered chairs. The suite, ordered as a royal gift to honor the marriage of two noble families, depicts the seasons, scenes from Aesop’s fables, and the two families’ coats of arms. Complementing the decorative arts is a selection of paintings that probably once adorned the homes and palaces of wealthy French aristocrats; these works include flamboyant portraits, like that of Cardinal Guillaume Dubois by Hyacinthe Rigaud, and elegant historical or mythological scenes, like François De Troy’s sensual depiction of Pan and Syrinx.

Ebony Cabinet c. 1690. André-Charles Boulle (French, 1642–1723). Marquetry in metal and tortoise shell, wood; 101.3 x 117.6 x 50 cm. John L. Severance Fund, 1949.539

The presence of several Dutch paintings from the late 1600s is a reminder that these elegant and precise re-creations of a past “golden age”—such as Gerard ter Borch’s Portrait of a Woman or Pieter de Hooch’s Portrait of a Family Making Music—were among the most expensive and highly sought-after paintings for an 18th-century French collector’s cabinet. In gallery 214, situated between these two very different domestic settings, the museum’s remarkable collection of wood sculpture from Germany and Central Europe will continue on display, with the presentation refined to afford a clearer understanding of the works’ original context in chapels, churches, and devotional spaces. Also featured here is another important new acquisition: a vivid and dynamic painting on copper of Christ’s resurrection by Johann König, the most important artist active in Augsburg and Nuremburg in the early 1600s.  

The Resurrection of Christ 1622. Johann König (German, 1586–1642). Oil on copper; 61 x 46 cm. Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund, 2017.192

Cleveland Art, November/December 2018