MFA curator discusses two new Italian Renaissance galleries at McMullen Lecture

Curator Marietta Cambareri opened her lecture at the McMullen Museum of Art with an image of an early art exhibition: a room dotted with various carts, shelves and trays.

“This is what a gallery installation looks like,” Cambareri said. “It’s controlled chaos.”

Days after this photo was taken, the “chaos” morphed into two new galleries of Italian Renaissance art at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston. Cambareri, MFA’s Senior Curator of European Sculpture and Curator of Judaica, described the various works of art that have inspired the galleries.

Boston College students and faculty gathered Monday for the 20th Annual Josephine Von Henneberg Lecture on Italian Art, where Cambareri discussed the process of creating the two new MFA galleries.

Henneberg was a professor at British Columbia and created the annual lecture series to encourage BC students to study Italian art.

During the talk, titled “Thinking Through Objects: Displaying the Italian Renaissance at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,” Cambareri discussed two works she sees as the “two poles” of the new exhibition at MFA. . The first, “The Dead Christ with Angels” by Rosso Fiorentino, depicts Jesus surrounded by angels dressed in brightly colored garments.

The second, Donatello’s “Virgin of the Clouds” depicts Mary and Jesus surrounded by clouds, which the artist sculpted in white marble using his own technique. While many gallery objects revolve around the room, “Madonna of the Clouds” is not yet hanging on the gallery wall and will not be for about a year, as it is currently on display in Berlin.

“It’s a really tough choice for a curator to open a new gallery without pulsar number two in my collection,” Cambareri said. “But it’s a collection gallery. It will change and grow, and I was pretty convinced it should go to the show.

Although “Madonna of the Clouds” is yet to be shown, countless other Renaissance-era works remain in the galleries for the public to enjoy, including a sculpture of St. John the Baptist by Giovanni Francesco Rustici, whom Cambareri considers the most important piece she has worked with.

Cambareri and his colleagues used X-ray technology to see the bones of the structure, UV lighting to uncover the layers of paint on the statue, and even observed the hardened clay of the broken pieces in which they found fragments. fingerprints.

Other notable works in the galleries include ancient bronze door knockers and intricate terracotta sculptures. One section of the gallery includes a studiolo which features Renaissance-era medals, antique gems, coins, and plaque heads. Cambareri carefully chose the placement of these objects to create storytelling through the design.

“The ability to intertwine these works was really, really important to me,” Cambareri said.

She and her team achieved this goal by designing the room and atmosphere to suit the gallery’s various themes, including antiquity and spirituality.

Some of the rooms were designed with arches and light to illuminate the artwork, while Cambareri selected music from local artists and women to add to the ambience. Cambareri said the gallery’s musical selections “bring the senses and the music to life.”

While the galleries were designed to appeal to the general public, Cambareri responded to the concern that an Italian Renaissance exhibit would not reflect all members of the Boston community. Most Renaissance art centered on religious themes and was created by white Catholic artists.

To make the exhibition appealing to all visitors, “talk tags” hang around the galleries, providing references to those not represented in the works, including Jews living on the Italian peninsula who worked on the art at the time.

During the session, Cambareri touched on her upcoming project titled “Telling Her Story,” an exhibition about the strong women of Renaissance Italy. The exhibition is based on works produced and commissioned by women as well as works featuring women. It will debut in the fall of 2023 and will remain open the following year.

“It’s definitely made by women,” Cambareri said. “It is a craft that was practiced by women. It represents all these anonymous objects of which we will never know who made them.

Angela C. Hale