CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

The natural world, the body, the divine

Exhibition: 28 January - 9 April 2006

From the website of the Providence Journal, issue of 2 March 2006, taken from internet on 21 February 2009

The Natural World, the Body, the Divine features paintings and sculptures from the 16th to the 18th centuries, a period when European artists broke away from the naive religious art of the Middle Ages and embraced a new, more naturalistic ideal of artistic beauty.

The switch from Medieval revelation to Renaissance realism is nicely illustrated at the start of the exhibit, which spans the museum’s two small Waterman Galleries. Just to the left of the entrance is a lovely 14th-century Madonna and Child, in which the gracefully intertwined figures are as flat and cherub-faced as a pair of paper dolls.

Compare that with the figures in Madonna and Child with Saint Barbara and Saint Catherine, a 16th-century painting attributed to a follower of Leonardo da Vinci. Where the earlier work is mainly flat and decorative, the later painting is fully three-dimensional, with full-bodied figures inhabiting a realistic architectural space. There’s even room for a sunny landscape in the background.

The Renaissance also emboldened artists to experiment with non-religious subjects, including landscapes and mythological scenes.

The RISD show features some fine examples of both genres, including a pair of action-packed mythological paintings (Nicholas Poussin’s Venus and Adonis and Joachim Wtewael’s The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis) and a majestic Dutch landscape (Salomon van Ruysdael’s The Ferry Boat).

Bill Van Siclen