From January 20 through March 28, the Bayly Art Museum at the University of Virginia will present a special exhibition, Virgins, Gods, Saints and Lovers: Strangeness and Style in Mannerist Prints. Drawn from the museum's permanent collection and curated by Susan Maxwell, a doctoral candidate in the McIntire Department of Art, these 16th-century prints offer evidence of a period of intense religious and political upheaval as well as a return to ancient literature as sources of inspiration for subject matter.
The term "mannerism" refers to works that show certain stylistic tendencies such as the use of geometric forms, deformation or elongation of figures, exaggerated gestures, strange lighting and perspectives, and evocative atmosphere. The diverse subjects present in the exhibition also attest to an interest in mysterious and even macabre themes. "Many of the works show a delight in erotic subjects taken from mythology or a perverse joy in sadistic representations of martyrdom and battle," explains Maxwell. "If the moralizing texts that accompany the works often seem to confuse the viewer in deciding whether to be critical of the scene presented," she adds, "the ambiguity is purposeful." The broad range of expression is especially evident in works from Hendrick Goltzius to Antonio Tempesta, both of whom took equal pleasure in the virtuoso handling of the burin, a cutting tool used by an engraver.ÝAmong the other artists represented in the exhibition are Abraham Bloemaert, Giulio Bonasone, Agustino Carracci, Cornelis Cort, Jacob Matham and Johannes Sadeler.
The exhibition juxtaposes strange subjects and modes of expression, ranging from depictions of the Virgin Mary to unusual mythological scenes and complex allegories. The emphasis, even in prints with religious themes, is on the sensual use of line and contrived poses of the human body. Of special interest throughout the exhibition is how the artists strive to attain a synthesis between technical skill and provocative themes. "The variety of techniques and subjects," notes Maxwell, "attests to the advent of artistic individuality in a quest for style and poetic strangeness among printmakers of the 16th century."
While many of the works in the exhibition are etchings or woodcuts, the majority are engravings. Their exquisitely etched lines and controlled cross-hatchings changed the world of printmaking from a practice geared primarily to reproductions to that of fine art in its own right. This golden age of engraving did not last into the 17th century, however; with the advent of master etchers, including Rembrandt, engraving became a tool for reproduction, which was in turn, replaced in the 19th century by photographic methods.
On Sunday, Feb. 11, at 2 p.m., Maxwell will present a gallery talk on Old Master prints in the Museum. Her presentation is open to the public.
The Bayly Art Museum is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, 1 to 5p.m. Admission is free. The museum is located on Rugby Road, a short distance from the Rotunda, and a small parking lot behind the building is available to visitors.
Contact: Jill Hartz, Director