The exhibition was organized in cooperation with the Albertina Museum, Vienna.
Tales of the City: Drawing in the Netherlands from Bosch to Bruegel is a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition featuring rarely seen drawings from the Albertina Museum in Vienna, one of Europe’s oldest and finest collections. The Northern Renaissance transformed daily life in the 1500s in the Netherlands (an area today encompassing Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), brought about by the Protestant Reformation, wide-scale urbanization, and the start of the Eighty Years’ War. Partially as a result of these changes, art patronage in the Netherlands shifted from that of the church and nobility to the rising middle class. Central to the blossoming of the arts was the skyrocketing wealth centered in the region’s merchant cities—in particular, Antwerp, which was the primary depot for luxury goods in the North and for overland and seafaring trade as far as Asia.
With their various functions and relationships to other media and projects, drawings provide fascinating insight into the Netherlandish city as a place of artistic collaboration and patronage. Artists made drawings to prepare for large commissions, to transfer designs to other media, and to plan civic events; many works in the exhibition were created in conjunction with the Netherlands’ flourishing industries in stained glass, tapestries, and printmaking. Drawings were also increasingly made as autonomous works of art. A selection of more than 90 drawings explores an array of refined techniques, including lavishly colored drawings and luxury objects drawn with ink on parchment, with subjects ranging from hell scenes to mythological dramas. Two stars of the exhibition are Hieronymus Bosch’s The Tree Man, one of the most idiosyncratic drawings of the era, and Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Desidia (Sloth), an essay on contemporary civic morality. Among several designs for majestic stained glass windows is a rare cartoon (full-scale drawing) measuring almost five feet tall by Antwerp artist Jan de Beer. Other notable works—seldom seen outside Europe—include portrait drawings in colored chalks by Hendrick Goltzius and a technically sophisticated pen drawing that imitates engraving by his stepson, Jacob Matham.
The Albertina Museum is among the world’s most superb repositories of Northern Renaissance drawings. Combined with choice examples from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s holdings, the exhibition introduces audiences to the highly engaging works of this era while exploring issues that remain relevant today, such as communal identity and expression, religious conflict and freedom, and the ethics and excesses of wealth.
The exhibition is accompanied by a major catalogue including catalogue entries and several essays by leading scholars.
ArtLens App Exhibition Guide
Use ArtLens App to get the most out of the exhibition. Listen to the Tales of the City audio tour with Emily J. Peters, curator of prints, for insights into the moralizing, narrative, and often comical and bizarre subject matter of selected drawings in the exhibition. Discover in-depth information for all objects on view and use the “favoriting” feature to keep track of artworks you like. ArtLens App is your guide to the museum while visiting the galleries or while preparing for your visit. Have the app? Take the tour on your mobile device.
Docent-Led Exhibition Tours
Exhibition tours are offered at 1:15 p.m. on Tuesdays and Sundays, from October 16 through December 27, 2022; free, tickets required.