ORLANDO, FLA.- The Orlando Museum of Art
opened the exhibition Treasures from the Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University: Five Centuries of Old Master Painting.
The European Old Master Painting Collection at the Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery is one of the largest and most comprehensive of its kind in the United States. This exhibition of more than 60 works of art from the 14th through the 19th centuries reflects the dramatic course of religious, artistic, and cultural history in Western Europe during these formative centuries. While the collections greatest strength is Italian Baroque painting, major artists working in Holland, Flanders, France, and Germany are represented by large-scale works of exceptional quality. Highlights include masterpieces by Botticelli, Rubens, Tintoretto, Veronese, Cranach, Murillo, Ribera, van Dyck, and Doré. The exhibition gives visitors a deeper understanding of the mainstream developments in European painting over the course of almost five centuries. Additionally, the exhibition focuses on guiding visitors through the fascinating narrative subjects of these works and their rich symbolism, some of which are now obscure and mysterious.
The collection of old master paintings at the Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University is of extraordinary quality and distinctive in many ways. Founded by Dr. Bob Jones Jr. in 1951, the collection was intended to enhance the educational programs of fine arts and religious studies at this Christian liberal arts university. The gallery initially opened with 30 paintings and now holds more than 400 dating from the 14th to the 19th century. It is one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of its kind in the United States, with particular strength in works from the Baroque period.
Perhaps the most singular aspect of the collection is its focus on Christian religious subjects. For a collection of European paintings that represents artistic achievements from the late Gothic period to the Modern era, this focus is not a limitation. Much of the art produced during these centuries was commissioned by the Catholic Church, pious members of the aristocracy, or (following the Reformation), churches, and individuals of Protestant denominations. During a time when few people could read and Catholic services were delivered in Latin, art was promoted by the Church to bring the spiritual significance of Christ and the meaning of biblical narratives to life in vivid, compelling ways.
Today old master paintings are most often seen in museum galleries having long ago been removed from their original contexts. Now viewed by a public of diverse religious practices and beliefs, these works are nevertheless widely appreciated for artistic qualities such as innovative styles, beautiful color schemes, and consummate figurative compositions. What is less well understood by the contemporary eye is the visual language of signs, symbols, and imagery, called iconography, used by these artists to convey the paintings narrative, and fully illuminate their meaning. This exhibition has been selected and organized to provide insight into the use of iconography in European paintings through the centuries. Additionally, the exhibition examines other pictorial strategies artists used such as gesture, color, vantage point, and lighting to guide the viewer in reading and interpreting these masterworks.