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Getty Museum Reopens Suite of Sculpture & Decorative Arts Galleries
West Pavilion Sculpture and Decorative Arts installation. Photo: Rebecca Vera-Martinez.
LOS ANGELES, CA.- The J. Paul Getty Museum today reopens its suite of sculpture and decorative arts galleries in the West Pavilion at the Getty Center with several recently acquired masterpieces featured prominently. These include Pietro Cipriani's Medici Venus and Dancing Faun (1722-24) and a nine-foot bronze vase by the French sculptor Jean-Désiré Ringel d'Illzach (1847—1916).

"On the heels of unveiling the highly successful reinstallation of the sculpture and decorative arts collection in the North Pavilion, we are pleased to have applied the new vision and approach from those galleries to our newly installed galleries in the Museum's West Pavilion," explains David Bomford, acting director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. "The overarching goal of this project was to reinvigorate the display of sculpture and decorative arts by integrating other art forms that help tell a more complete story of the history of art. This re-installation has also given us the opportunity to create a showcase for several important newly acquired works."

Antonia Boström, senior curator of sculpture and decorative arts at the J. Paul Getty Museum, adds, "We are delighted to have had the opportunity to re-envisage the design and display of these galleries with major recent acquisitions-such as the Cipriani bronzes and the monumental vase by Ringel d'Illzach—in mind. The new chrono-thematic configuration allows for these important sculptures to be given pride of place and thoughtfully juxtaposed with other sculptures from the Museum's collection, as well as decorative arts, paintings and prints from the same period, giving the visitor a more cohesive understanding of these historical periods and their respective artistic traditions."

The newly reinstalled suite of galleries on the plaza level of the West Pavilion take the visitor from Neoclassicism (W101) through Late Neoclassicism and Romanticism (W102), culminating with Symbolism in the grand vertical gallery (W103). There, the recently acquired monumental bronze vase by the French sculptor Jean-Désiré Ringel d'Illzach is installed as the gallery's centerpiece. Another recently acquired masterpiece, The Vexed Man (after 1770), an alabaster bust by the 18th-century Austrian sculptor, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783), is currently on loan to a Messerschmidt exhibition opening in September at the Neue Galerie in New York, that will then travel to the Musée du Louvre in Paris (February—May, 2011). On its return, the bust will be installed in the Late Neoclassical gallery (W102), where it will be on view together with an Italian daybed by Filippo Pelagio Palagi, a German Secrétaire (1798-99) by Johann Andreas Beo, and a Bust of Juliette Récamier (about 1801-02) by Joseph Chinard.

Cipriani's Medici Venus and Dancing Faun
The centerpiece of the Neo-Classical sculpture gallery (W101) are two full-scale bronze versions of the Venus de' Medici and the Dancing Faun, cast after the renowned Hellenistic statues in Florence, by the 18thcentury Florentine sculptor, Pietro Cipriani (c.1680—1745). For centuries, artists, patrons and collectors have been fascinated by the Graeco-Roman artistic tradition. As part of a classical education they would visit Italy to perfect their knowledge of classical culture and literature, where they would also have the opportunity to study architecture, sculpture and painting, and collect antiquities. This reverence for antique culture dominated the 18th century, and sculptural replicas—typically small scale and transportable—of famous sculptures from classical antiquity were frequently brought home, particularly to England, by Grand Tourists returning from Southern Europe.

In 1722, George Parker, later the 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, commissioned Pietro Cipriani, one of the most gifted bronze sculptors of his generation in Florence, to make full-scale casts of two of the most famous Classical sculptures in Italy, for display at his family's home, Shirburn Castle in Oxfordshire, England. The bronzes were modeled after the Venus de' Medici and the so-called Dancing Faun—ancient marbles from the renowned Medici collections, which had been prominently displayed in the Tribuna of the Uffizi since the 1600s, and which were of particular importance to any Grand Tourist and art enthusiast visiting Florence. The sculptures celebrate the two major deities associated with sensual pleasures, Venus and Bacchus. Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love, is shown in the role of the Venus Pudica ('chaste Venus')—shielding her breasts and genitals with her hands as she is surprised by an unannounced visitor—while the Dancing Faun or Satyr with a kroupezion, is shown with musical instruments, as he entices a nymph to dance.

Cipriani's bronzes move far beyond simple notions of the "souvenir" by way of their large scale, and by the superlative quality of the unique bronze casts. Cipriani used bronze for his versions rather than recreating the sculptures in marble because of the widespread notion in the 18th century that the ancient marbles were copies after bronze originals. The precision of the sculptural recreations is impeccable.

In the Neoclassical sculpture gallery, Cipriani's Venus de Medici and the Dancing Faun are juxtaposed with Joseph Nollekens' marble figures of Juno, Minerva and Venus, adding a colorful contrast to the primarily white marble sculptures in this gallery, with their dark, translucent patinas.

Ringel d'Illzach Vase
The crowning glory of the last gallery (W103) is undoubtedly the vase by Jean-Désiré Ringel d'Illzach that was exhibited at the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris, the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, and the 1910 Universal Exposition in Brussels.

Ringel d'Illzach's design for the vase drew heavily on a bronze volute krater from Pompeii (now at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples), which he had seen and sketched during his visit in 1877. The body of the vase is an elongated adaptation of the "belly" of the krater, while the elaborately curled handles replicate the arms of the ancient vessel. The sculptor never intended the vase to be functional, but instead to impress through technical bravado and scale—much as France hoped to impress the world with its newly erected Eiffel Tower at the same exposition.

Following the 1889 Universal Exposition, the vase was exhibited for two years at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in the Palais de l'Industrie, and Ringel d'Illzach hoped the museum would ultimately acquire the work. The purchase was not made, however, and the artist subsequently submitted the vase to the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago and the Universal Exposition in Brussels in 1910. Eventually, the vase was returned to the Compagnie des Bronzes de Bruxelles, presumably because the sculptor was unable to pay the considerable costs for its casting. When the Brussels-based company dissolved in the 1970s, the vase was purchased by a private collector, after which it was sold to its previous owner in 2007.

In early 2009 the vase came on loan to the Getty and was acquired later that year. It was an inspirational addition to the permanent collection, with its scale and audacious ambition, not to mention its correlation to the Museum's 19th-century Belgian and French paintings and sculptures, as well as the collection of Roman antiquities at the Getty Villa. With the re-installation of these sculpture and decorative arts galleries, the vase now finds a permanent home in the grand, vertical gallery in the West Pavilion where it is displayed, together with French, Belgian, and German sculpture dating from the same period, as well as with Fernand Khnopff's Portrait of Jeanne Kéfer (1885). The abundant natural light in this gallery will make the vase's tremendous Symbolist details—lifecasts of spiders, juniper branches, scraps of lace, and still-undecipherable motifs—and Art Nouveau ornamentation even more vivid for Museum visitors.

The J. Paul Getty Museum | Antonia Boström | David Bomford |


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