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VMFA Great Hall Is Reinstalled With Focus On 17th Century Age of Magnificence
A new installation in the Great Hall at VMFA presents some of the most celebrated works by artists of the Renaissance and Baroque periods from VMFA's permanent collections and from other major museums. (Photo by Travis Fullerton, © 2008 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts).

RICHMOND, VA.- The Great Hall at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has been reinstalled with a focus on the 17th-century Age of Magnificence and “a feeling of drama that is appropriate for the art of the period,” says Dr. Mitchell Merling, the museum’s Paul Mellon Curator and head of the Department of European Art.

Included in the reinstallation are significant works by what Merling calls “some of the most celebrated artists of the Renaissance and Baroque periods” from VMFA’s permanent collections and from other major museums and private collections.

The gallery, with its burgundy walls and soaring cream-colored columns trimmed in gold, is evocative of an American Beaux Arts interpretation of the English Baroque style. The grand dimensions and openness of the Great Hall, qualities that could dominate smaller works, are appropriate for showing sizeable Renaissance and Baroque paintings, Merling says.

“We wanted the rich color, intense light and dark shadows, and the grandeur of the paintings to extend beyond the canvases. We want visitors to experience the scale of these works, which were originally created for grand spaces.”

Masterworks now on view in the Great Hall include:

“Adoration of the Shepherds” and “Annunciation,” both painted in 1712 by the Italian late-Baroque painter Paolo de' Matteis (1662-1728). Originally commissioned as a pair by the Duchess of Laurenzano, the paintings have not been exhibited together in recent times. “Annunciation,” on loan from the Saint Louis Art Museum, will be on view through January. “Adoration of the Shepherds” was purchased by VMFA in 1979.

Artemisia Gentileschi’s “Venus and Cupid,” 1625-30, a Baroque painting that was acquired by the museum in 2001. Gentileschi (1593-1652/53) was one of the first women to paint religious and historical art and to be acclaimed by the male-dominated artistic community of her time.

Nicholas Poussin’s “Achilles on Skyros,” an oil on canvas that is precisely dated 1656 by a receipt for payment from Poussin’s patron, the Duc de Créqui. Recent conservation efforts have revealed brilliant coloring, an atmospheric landscape, and the use of a strict perspective system. Poussin (1594-1665) is cited by many art historians as the founder and greatest practitioner of 17th-century French Classical painting.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s “Saint Mary Magdalene Renouncing the Worldly Life,” an early 1650s oil on canvas that is one of many poignant religious works for which the artist is best known. Murillo’s work was influenced by the Italian master Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio (1571-1610) and Francisco de Zurbarán (1618-1682), who during his lifetime was one Spain’s most celebrated Baroque artists.

“Madonna and Child with Saint Anne,” circa 1510, by German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553). The oil on canvas demonstrates the Renaissance painter’s vivid use of color and evocative depiction of landscape, Merling says. The painting was lent to the museum from a private collection.

“Euclid of Megara Dressing as a Woman to Hear Socrates Teach in Athens,” circa 1650-60, is by Sicilian painter Domenico Maroli (1612-1676) and is on loan from a private collection. Commissioned by an important Venetian patron of the arts, the painting “is a masterpiece of both Classical history painting and still life and shows the incredible diversity of style present during the Italian Baroque,” Merling says. “This painting was recently rediscovered. It once decorated the private academy of a 17th-century Venetian aristocrat.”

The reinstallation will be on view until the Great Hall closes next spring for the installation of a new fire suppression system. Following the opening of the museum’s new McGlothlin Wing late next year, the space now known as the Great Hall will accommodate VMFA’s extensive collection of tapestries and will be known as the Tapestry Hall.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is on the Boulevard at Grove Avenue. The galleries are open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. VMFA is an educational institution of the Commonwealth of Virginia and in 2008 celebrates 70 years as a leader in statewide arts education. Admission to the museum is free. For additional information about exhibitions and programs, telephone (804) 340-1400 or visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Web site,

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