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The Other Half: (Art) Histories of Couples on view at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
Giovanni Busi, called Cariani (Venice or Bergamo Province c. 1485 – 1548 Venice (?) ), Poet Playing a Hurdy-Gurdy with a Young Woman, c. 1520, 80,5 x 74,5 cm© KHM with MVK and ÖTM.

VIENNA.- Gods, Siblings, rulers or members of the bourgeoisie --- they all commissioned portraits of pairs or couples. Throughout history ‘‘pairs’’ have proved an interesting topic for artists. They have documented a real or hoped-for affinity and were created for many different locations. This is the first comprehensive survey selected from the countless historical examples of images of pairs in the collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Eighty works dating from a period spanning four millennia document not only constants but also differences in form, function and intended location. Funerary statues encounter paintings, rarely-seen artworks are juxtaposed with celebrated highlights from the museum’s collections. But what unites statues from Ancient Egypt and Classical Antiquity, tapestries, ivories and masterpieces by Rubens and Cranach is their patrons’ desire to document a common bond with another.

The show’s title „The Other Half‘‘ refers to the traditional idea of a pair comprising two adults who are either married or in love. They constitute the majority of sitters in depictions of couples since classical antiquity. The title is, however, also a reference to a characteristic element in the countless depictions of pairs known as diptychs - i.e. a painting comprising two separate but joint panels - which originated in Late Antiquity. When commissioning a portrait of themselves and their partner, many mediaeval and Renaissance rulers, noblemen and burghers commissioned a diptych. In addition to pictures of married couples or lovers the exhibition also showcases images of other constellations, among them siblings, friends, or painters with their models. Illustrations of pairs like ill-matched couples were, however, not intended as individual portraits but as didactic moralizing warnings of the dangers of love. The final section of the show focuses on Zeus and his amours and on Adam and Eve; selected artworks illustrate how these couples from, respectively, Greek and Roman mythology and the Old Testament continue to exercise the imagination of artists.

The exhibition is the fifth in our INTERMEZZO series, in which the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien showcases a selection of artworks from its own holdings in a single gallery, creating a stimulating dialogue. This exhibition is curated by a team of in-house curators from the following collections: The Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection, the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities, the Picture Gallery, the Kunstkammer Wien, the Coin Collection, the Library, the Collection of Historical Arms and Armour, and Ambras Palace.

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