Press release from Harvard University Art Museums
Acting on the premise that history is as much a matter of the present as of the past, this exhibition presents a stirring oil sketch, Neptune Calming the Tempest by the great baroque master Rubens, in two registers. One concerns what a historically uninformed viewer might see in this puzzling yet dramatic nautical scene today.
The other offers material that illuminates the cultural tradition and social circumstances within which Rubens was working to produce this painting in Antwerp in the 1630s. The exhibition seeks to provoke viewers to consider what it might mean to work with a complex object both with and without the apparatus of art history.
Drawing principally on Harvard’s collections, the exhibition includes objects ranging chronologically from ancient Greek coins to a Belgian work of contemporary conceptual art. Rubens’s painting is thereby relocated within a visual matrix that implies a novel conception of what might properly constitute a historical understanding of an object of great resonance and complexity.
This exhibition was developed from Ivan Gaskell’s spring 2000 graduate seminar, Confronting Rubens. Gaskell collaborated with seminar participants Philip Fisher (Felice Crowl Reid Professor of English and American Literature) and Nick Hoffman (MBA, 2000) to spend the entire semester examining this one work of art in the Fogg’s collection.