Recent acquisitions by the Cleveland Museum of Art include Aurelio Lombardo’s Dido, an exquisitely carved early 16th-century marble relief sculpture; a drawing by Giulio Romano directly related to one of the artist’s most important frescoed ceilings in Italy; Gustave Caillebotte’s Study of a Man with Hands in His Pockets, a rare drawing by the Impressionist master that greatly enhances the museum’s collection of 19th-century French art.
Additional recent acquisitions continue to expand the CMA’s representation of works by African American artists and other artists of color, including four screenprints by Barbara Jones-Hogu, Wadsworth Jarrell, and Amy Sherald, and four photographs by D’Angelo Lovell Williams. Zilia Sánchez’s Troyanas (de la serie Módulos Infinitos) [Trojans (of the Infinite Module series)], an impressively scaled modular painting, adds to the museum’s contemporary holdings of Latin American art.
On January 29, 2021, the CMA acquired Aurelio Lombardo’s sculpture Dido from the auction of Hester Diamond’s collection at Sotheby’s, New York. Created at a pivotal moment in the birth of Mannerist sculpture, it depicts the legendary queen Dido. Departing from the customary portrayal of Dido as a forlorn lover abandoned by the Trojan hero Aeneas, Aurelio’s Dido is active and defiant. The sculpture’s inscription identifies her as the queen of Carthage, and she is represented pulling aside an oxhide curtain, a reference to Virgil’s description of the mythical founding of Carthage in his epic poem, the Aeneid.
Dido is depicted nude and her wavy hair is worn in loose knots, an allusion to Hellenistic images of Aphrodite. Lombardo’s virtuoso carving ranges from the delicate, low relief of the oxhide-draped altar, to an elbow and knee that break free from the marble surface. Dido’s parted lips and striking, articulated pupils convey intense emotion. The softness of her flesh is contrasted with the taut folds of draped and stretched animal skin.
Dido is among a handful of marble sculptures attributed to the artist and was likely created for display in a studiolo, a place of study featuring refined works of art appreciated by humanist scholars and aficionados during the Renaissance. Ancient Greek and Roman works of art were most coveted, but reliefs such as Dido, created in the stylistic language of ancient sculpture and illustrating key figures from ancient texts, were highly sought after, particularly in northern Italy.
Dido exemplifies a vital transition in Italian sculpture from Renaissance clarity to the Mannerist play of proportion and movement. It represents the highest degree of sophistication and innovation of an art form rarely encountered on the market.
The CMA has acquired two important drawings: a figure study by Giulio Romano that is one of eight surviving preparatory studies for a frescoed ceiling at the Palazzo del Te in Italy, and a rare study by Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte.
Four color screenprints by African American artists Barbara Jones-Hogu, Wadsworth Jarrell, and Amy Sherald contribute to the CMA’s mission to diversify its collections. Sherald’s first print, Handsome, reinterprets a 2019 painting of the same title that depicts Jamar Roberts, a dancer for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, formed in 1958 to combine modern dance with Black culture. Handsome will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at the CMA scheduled for spring 2022, Women Now, that focuses on contemporary women printmakers.
In four photographs—Mama’s Always Watching; Was Blind But Now I See (Granny); Hieroglyph 1; and Take My Hand—D’Angelo Lovell Williams poses himself, his family, and a lover in meticulously staged photos that explore what the artist describes as “intersections of blackness, queerness, and family.” A central theme in Lovell Williams’s work is touch—black flesh meeting black flesh. The four photographs reveal touch between lovers and generations of family members. His suggested narratives are multilayered, specifically referring to race and sexuality, while being simultaneously universal, exploring issues of human vulnerability and intimacy.
Cuban-born Zilia Sánchez (b. 1926) is an intriguing yet underrepresented Latin American modernist artist. Troyanas, from her Infinite Module series, is an impressively scaled, modular painting comprising three striking, shaped panels. It is exemplary of the bulbous, curved canvases, suggestive of the body, that have become emblematic of Sánchez’s signature style. Throughout her career, Sánchez has been inspired by female warriors, and the title Troyanas (Trojan Women) invokes the legendary women of Troy and their inner strength while mourning the loss of their land. The serial panels evoke lines of female warriors standing together united, highlighting the collective power of women. The bold black and white palette accentuates the canvas’s shaped forms.
The 1960s was a key historical period in Latin American modernism and this work fills an important gap in the collection. With this acquisition, Troyanas allows the museum to tell a more global story of art and abstraction. Troyanas will be on view in the reinstallation of the CMA’s contemporary galleries, reopening to visitors in April 2021.