Harvard Art Museums Announce Exhibition That Investigates Connections between Renaissance Art and Science

  • CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts
  • /
  • May 20, 2011

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Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia I (detail), 1514. Engraving. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of William Gray from the collection of Francis Calley Gray, G1098. Hendrick Goltzius, The Great Hercules (detail), 1589. Engraving. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gray Collection of Engravings Fund, G4613. Jacques de Gheyn II, Great Lion (detail), c. 1590. Engraving. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Anonymous Fund for the Acquisition of Prints Older than 150 Years, 2009.46..

The Harvard Art Museums present Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe an exhibition that examines how celebrated Northern Renaissance artists contributed to the scientific discoveries of the 16th century. This exhibition and the accompanying catalogue offer a new  perspective on the collaboration between artists and scientists: the project challenges the perception of artists as illustrators in the service of scientists, and examines how their printmaking skills were useful to scientists in their investigations. Artists’ early printed images served as effective research tools, not only functioning as descriptive illustrations, but also operating as active agents in the creation and dissemination of knowledge. Taking into consideration prints, books, maps, and such scientific instruments as sundials, globes, astrolabes, and armillary spheres, this project looks at relationships between their producers and their production, as well as between the objects themselves.

Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe will be on display at the Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum from September 6 to December 10, 2011, and then travel to the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art (at Northwestern University), where it will be on view from January 17 to April 8, 2012. The exhibition is curated by Susan Dackerman, Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints, Division of European and American Art, Harvard Art Museums. Dackerman is also Head of Student Affairs at the Art Museums.

“This exhibition crosses the wires of the history of art and the history of science,” said Dackerman. “It examines the role that artists played in the scientific investigations of the 16th century by exploring printed images that have, by and large, been neglected by art history and relegated to other fields because of their scientific content.”

Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge was assembled using the extensive resources of Harvard University. The planning for the exhibition and the writing of the catalogue resulted from collaboration among participants in a monthly interdisciplinary seminar at Harvard’s Mahindra Humanities Center. Dackerman and Katharine Park (Samuel Zemurray, Jr. and Doris Zemurray Stone Radcliffe Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University) jointly co-chaired the seminar, and taught a graduate class in the spring of 2010. For the exhibition and its catalogue, faculty members and collection curators provided expertise, and campus collections were mined for The Harvard Art Museums present Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe, an exhibition that examines how celebrated Northern Renaissance artists contributed to the scientific discoveries of the 16th century. This exhibition and the accompanying catalogue offer a new perspective on the collaboration between artists and scientists: the project challenges the perception of artists as illustrators in the service of scientists, and examines how their printmaking skills were useful to scientists in their investigations. Artists’ early printed images served as effective research tools, not only functioning as descriptive illustrations, but also operating as active agents in the creation and dissemination of knowledge. Taking into consideration prints, books, maps, and such scientific instruments as sundials, globes, astrolabes, and armillary spheres, this project looks at relationships between their producers and their production, as well as between the objects themselves.

Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe will be on display at the Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum from September 6 to December 10, 2011, and then travel to the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art (at Northwestern University), where it will be on view from January 17 to April 8, 2012. The exhibition is curated by Susan Dackerman, Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints, Division of European and American Art, Harvard Art Museums. Dackerman is also Head of Student Affairs at the Art Museums.

“This exhibition crosses the wires of the history of art and the history of science,” said Dackerman. “It examines the role that artists played in the scientific investigations of the 16th century by exploring printed images that have, by and large, been neglected by art history and relegated to other fields because of their scientific content.”

Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge was assembled using the extensive resources of Harvard University. The planning for the exhibition and the writing of the catalogue resulted from collaboration among participants in a monthly interdisciplinary seminar at Harvard’s Mahindra Humanities Center. Dackerman and Katharine Park (Samuel Zemurray, Jr. and Doris Zemurray Stone Radcliffe Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University) jointly co-chaired the seminar, and taught a graduate class in the spring of 2010. For the exhibition and its catalogue, faculty members and collection curators provided expertise, and campus collections were mined for Visitors will be encouraged to handle 12 facsimiles of prints that were designed to be assembled, including sundials by George Brentel the younger, an astrolabe by Georg Hartmann, and flap prints of female and male anatomy by Vogtherr.

Loans on display include items from the following Harvard collections: the Harvard Art Museums; the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments; Houghton Library; Countway Library of Medicine; Botany Libraries; Map Collection, Harvard College Library; and the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Works have also been borrowed from major American and European collections and institutions.

In preparation for this exhibition, the Art Museums’ print collection acquired a number of objects, including two sundial pamphlets by Georg Brentel (1615), portraits of botanist Carolus Clusius by Jacques de Gheyn II (1601) and scholar Wenzel Jamnitzer by Jost Amman (c. 1572–75), an etching of The Ptolemaic System by Jost Amman (1579), and the engraved Great Lion by Jacques de Gheyn (c. 1590).

Public Programming
A full schedule of public programming, involving the exhibition researchers as well as guest scientists and artists, is planned for the fall. Events include an opening-night panel discussion with the researchers; a panel discussion at the Museum of Science, Boston, featuring artist Alexis Rockman and James McCarthy, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography, Harvard University; and a public symposium featuring art historians, historians of science, and artists, with Lorraine Daston (Max Planck Institute, Berlin) as keynote speaker. Unconventional gallery talks will include performances by the musical group Blue Heron, the Boston preview of artist Josiah McIheny’s film Island Universe, an evening of star gazing outside the Sackler Museum, and a discussion with new-media artist Brian Knep. Free family days will be held on September 24, October 22, and November 19, with thematic activities provided each afternoon. Detailed information about these events will be available on the Art Museums’ website at harvardartmuseums.org/ppk in the coming months.

Publication
An accompanying catalogue, published by the Harvard Art Museums and distributed by Yale University Press, will be released in September. The publication was edited by Susan Dackerman and features essays by Dackerman, Lorraine Daston (Director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin), Katharine Park (Samuel Zemurray, Jr. and Doris Zemurray Stone Radcliffe Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University), Suzanne Karr Schmidt (Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago), and Claudia Swan (Associate Professor of Art History at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois). Images of each object in the exhibition are accompanied by catalogue entries written by Harvard and Northwestern University graduate students. The catalogue will be available for sale in the Harvard Art Museums’ shop, located in the Arthur M. Sackler Museum; to inquire about ordering, call 617-495-1440 or email am_shop@harvard.edu. To request a copy for review, please contact Jennifer Aubin in the Art Museums’ Communications office (see below).

Gallery and Education Tools
Selected objects in the exhibition will be featured in the Guide by Cell tour, and “pathway cards” will enable viewers to explore five themes on focused, self-guided tours. One of the pathway cards will be designed specifically for family audiences.

Teacher Resources: On the Art Museums’ website (harvardartmuseums.org/ppk), exhibition-related materials designed for school groups will be available, and will include detailed highlights of exhibition themes, suggestions for pre- and post-visit activities, downloadable images for classroom use, and suggested curricular connections. Lesson plans will align with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks.


Online Tools
Later this summer, the Art Museums’ will launch an interactive tool at harvardartmuseums.org/ppk that allows users to digitally construct six prints from the exhibition and manipulate them as they were used in their day. Objects include a cylindrical sundial by Georg Brentel and a female anatomical flap print by Heinrich Vogtherr. The digital tool will offer an audio interpretation of each print, a zoom feature, and a step-by-step explanation of the printing and woodcutting processes, and a kiosk will be set up in the galleries for access on-site.

An iPhone/iPad application for constructing and manipulating the Vogtherr anatomical print will be available for download. The application will include an image gallery with details of each of the print’s components, including translations of the German text that appears on the print.

Press Preview
A preview of the exhibition will be held for members of the press on Thursday, September 1, 2011, at 9:30am. RSVP to jennifer_aubin@harvard.edu. Parking is available first-come, first-served at the nearby Broadway Garage, 7 Fenton Street; to reserve, email a request to jennifer_aubin@harvard.edu beginning two weeks before the event.

Credits
Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe was organized by the Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA, in collaboration with the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.

The exhibition and catalogue are made possible by funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Mrs. Arthur K. Solomon, Lionel and Vivian Spiro, Walter and Virgilia Klein, Julian and Hope Edison, Novartis on behalf of Dr. Steven E. Hyman, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, Barbara and Robert Wheaton, the Goldman Sachs Foundation, and an anonymous donor.

Additional support is provided by the Harvard Art Museums’ endowment funds: the Alexander S., Robert L., and Bruce A. Beal Exhibition Fund; Anthony and Celeste Meier Exhibitions Fund; Charlotte F. and Irving W. Rabb Exhibition Fund; and Melvin R. Seiden and Janine Luke Fund for Publications and Exhibitions.

About the National Endowment for the Humanities
Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: neh.gov.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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