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Hood Museum explores portraiture old and new in different media

Posted 09/12/00

The opportunity to explore the personal identity of others is a seductive one. Starting Saturday, Oct. 7, the Hood Museum of Art offers visitors an exciting look at emperors, religious rulers, political figures, philosophers, artists and our contemporaries, through two significant exhibitions.

"The Power of Appearances: Renaissance and Reformation Portrait Prints and Medals" and "Surface and Depth: Trends in Contemporary Portrait Photography," examine the practice of portraiture and the myriad ways in which it serves to depict individual character, profession, race, class and gender to a viewing audience.

These exhibitions provide a thematic and historical context for understanding the artistry of portraiture from the fifteenth century to today. Although the works included in these two shows demonstrate differences in culture, time period, mentality, and artistic approach, their artists share a desire to capture both the realities and the illusions of physical likeness and personality.

An opening lecture and reception celebrating both exhibitions will take place on Friday, Oct. 20 at 5 pm. Richard Brilliant, Anna S. Garbedian Professor in the Humanities, Department of Art History and Archeology, Columbia University, will present his talk, titled "Forceful Faciality," in the Arthur M. Loew Auditorium. A reception hosted by the Friends of Hopkins Center and Hood Museum of Art will follow.

The Power of Appearances: Renaissance and Reformation Portrait Prints and Medals, Oct. 7-Dec. 3

This exhibition of sixty-two prints from the National Lending Service of the National Gallery of Art is supplemented with prints, medals, books, and broadsides from five other institutions. It explores the singular nature of Renaissance and Reformation portraiture by examining both naturalistic and idealized images of leading political, religious, and cultural figures such as Queen Elizabeth I, Emperor Maximilian I, and Martin Luther. This exhibition highlights works by the foremost artists of this period, including Albrecht Dürer, Hendrick Goltzius, and Agostino Carracci.

The fifteenth century represents a turning point in the history of portraiture. Not since ancient Greece and Rome was there such intense public interest in human personality and behavior. Portrait medals, which included propagandistic images, emblems, and inscriptions, could be found in nearly every major center of artistic activity. They provided an ideal medium for the transmission of political, religious, and cultural information to friends and close associates of the individual represented. By the end of the century, the advent of the printing press would bring an increased awareness of the potential for even greater publicity through the large-scale publication of images, thus foretelling the popularity of portraiture in printmaking.

As a commemorative object, a portrait had to have a reasonable resemblance to its sitter in order that he or she be recognizable. Printmakers also used attributes such as robes, crowns, swords, books, crucifixes, as well as descriptive or commemorative texts, to help identify a subject's profession and status. When combined with expression, gesture, costume, and other decoration, these details contributed to a carefully constructed image of the sitter and conveyed the function of a given work.

This exhibition is organized by the National Lending Service of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and supplemented with other materials by the Hood Museum of Art. Its presentation at the Hood Museum of Art is made possible by The Marie-Louise and Samuel R. Rosenthal Fund and The William Chase Grant 1919 Fund.

Surface and Depth: Trends in Contemporary Portrait Photography, Oct. 7-Dec. 31

Whether formal studio portraits, snapshots of friends and family, mass media images of celebrities, or artistic renderings, photographs of individuals are constantly beckoning us to look at them. This exhibition examines the use of portraiture in the work of several contemporary photographers, including Dawoud Bey, John Coplans, Nan Goldin, Sally Mann, Nicholas Nixon, Gary Schneider, Cindy Sherman, and Carrie Mae Weems. With very distinctive styles, these artists explore new photographic practices, the boundaries of traditional portraiture, and the formation of social identities as seen through the camera's lens.

Since the development of photography in the 1830s, continued technological advancements in the medium have altered the ways in which artists conceive of portraiture. The ability of Nan Goldin to capture the intimacies of her friends and Nicholas Nixon to create a touching 25-year visual chronicle of his wife and her sisters distinguish contemporary photographic portraits from the more figurative depictions of Renaissance and Reformation prints and medals. In addition, these works express the artists' insight into social movements, race, gender, and sexuality using a variety of photographic techniques. From Carrie Mae Weems' documentation of the poignant photographic legacy of African-Americans to Gary Schneider' s unconventional look at the body's interior landscape, these works wrestle with the many complexities of a multicultural society.

This exhibition is organized by the Hood Museum of Art and has been made possible through the generous support of The Leon C. 1927, Charles L. 1955, and Andrew J. 1984 Greenbaum Fund.

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