ATLANTA, GA.- This October the High Museum of Art will present The Louvre and the Masterpiece, which will explore how the definition of a "masterpiece," as well as taste and connoisseurship, have changed over time. The exhibition will feature ninety-one works of art drawn from all eight of the Musée du Louvre's collection areas, spanning 4,000 years. Paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, and drawings will reflect three major themes: the changing historical and cultural definitions of a masterpiece; authenticity and connoisseurship; and the evolution of taste and scholarship. The Louvre and the Masterpiece will be on view in Atlanta from October 12, 2008, through September 6, 2009.
The exhibition is divided into three sections which together explore a range of thematic questions about the concept of a masterpiece.
What is a Masterpiece?
"What is a Masterpiece?" will be divided into two parts, with the first exploring the changing historical definitions of the concept of masterpiece through a selection of objects from the ancient Near East through mid-19th-century works. In the ancient world, a masterpiece was defined by an object's owner and purpose. In contrast, medieval artists' works achieved mastery within guild levels. Notable objects in this section include two such inscribed works: a Limoges ciborium (ca. 1200 A.D.), a vessel used for holding communion hosts, and a hammered bronze basin known as the "Baptistery of Saint Louis," (ca. late 13th/early 14th century A.D.). The "Baptistery of Saint Louis" was later used to baptize Louis XIII in 1610 and Napoleon III's son in 1856.
The second part of this section will introduce the idea of connoisseurship as a means of identifying works from the past as masterpieces. Displayed in pairs or groups, visitors will compare the masterwork to similar but lesser objects. The presentation will conclude with an examination of the famed "Blue Head," a forgery from the Louvre's collection. For years, the glass head was believed to be an Egyptian masterpiece (ca. 1400 B.C.). Once displayed in the ancient Egyptian galleries, it was one of the most frequently reproduced works in the Louvre's collections. After careful scientific analysis, in 2001 it was confirmed to be a forgery. The head was crafted to fit into a specific art historical niche in Egyptian art and to resonate with the taste for the art deco style popular in the 1920s.
Evolution of Taste and Knowledge
"Evolution of Taste and Knowledge" will explore masterpieces that were either 'rediscovered' or reattributed based on the changing knowledge and perceptions of Louvre curators during the past 200 years. Included will be ten paintings and sculptures by artists who are well known today but who were overlooked in previous eras. These include Jan Vermeer's masterpiece, "The Astronomer," which has never been seen in the southeastern United States. Vermeer did not have much impact on the art world during his lifetime, partly because his style did not fit the prevailing taste.
This section will also feature three rotations of focused installations. The first will include a Romanesque marble capital depicting the biblical story of Daniel in the Lion's Den and the early Greek sculpture called the "Lady of Auxerre." A suite of 14 drawings by the Renaissance artist Pisanello will follow. These drawings were collected by the Louvre in the nineteenth century, when they were thought to be rare works by Leonardo da Vinci. Research and new findings by curators determined that they were actually created by Pisanello, an extraordinarily gifted but lesser-known artist. Through this reattribution, an exceptional artist was discoveredor rediscoveredin modern times. A suite of prints from the Louvre's Rothschild collection of Old Master prints will form the third installation.
Barye in Context
Several major themes of the exhibition will be further explored through an in-depth examination of one significant object: French sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye's bronze "Lion Crushing a Serpent." These include the significance of technical mastery and the creative process, and the impact of the artist's reputation. The presentation will also include smaller models and studies of the lion figure.
Antoine-Louis Barye was well known for his realistic depiction of animals, especially those engaged in a life-and-death struggle. This piece was commissioned by King Louis-Philippe for the Tuileries Gardens, and was on display there from 1836 to 1911. Barye pushed the technical boundaries of casting bronze sculpture by creating "Lion Crushing a Serpent" with one bronze pour into a single mold. He reproduced the work hundreds of times in other sizes, which were then sold as collectible objects and used as diplomatic gifts from the French government.
Interactive Technologies for Interpretation
In addition to wall labels, murals, and audio guides, the exhibitions will be enhanced by interactive tools that have been researched and developed through a year-long series of focus groups. These tools are being developed jointly by the High and Louvre staff as part of MuseumLab, an international alliance initiated by the Louvre for which the High serves as the only U.S. partner. Working closely with Accenture, these interactives will provide more in-depth ways to explore the exhibition concepts. Accentures Interactive Wall, a seven by ten-foot touch screen, will allow visitors to make their own masterpiece choices and compare their choices to those of other visitors and experts. An interactive computer game will also give visitors the chance to investigate a possible forgery by comparing two ancient Egyptian heads.
The High Museum of Art launched its unprecedented three-year partnership with the Musée du Louvre in October 2006 to critical acclaim, continuing the High's longstanding strategy of collaborating with international institutions to bring great art to Atlanta. "Louvre Atlanta" is bringing hundreds of works of art from Paris to Atlanta through a series of long-term thematic exhibitions exploring the range, depth, and historic development of the Louvre's collections.
"Louvre Atlanta" opened on October 14, 2006, with the exhibitions Kings as Collectors, The King's Drawings and Faces of History and Myth: Busts from the Musée du Louvre. Now in its second year, the exhibitions include The Louvre and the Ancient World, The Eye of Josephine, and Houdon at the Louvre: Masterworks from the Enlightenment. The High has welcomed over 500,000 visitors to these exhibitions, of which approximately 20 percent have been schoolchildren. Since "Louvre Atlanta" opened, the High's membership has grown to more than 50,000 households, which ranks in the top 10 among American art museums.