Exhibit marks Allentown Art Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art partnership
“Evolution of the Spiritual: Europe to America,” an exhibition in the Kress Gallery, Allentown Art Museum, began a multi-year partnership with the Philadelphia Museum of Art
On view were eight historic depictions of the Virgin Mary from the 15th century through the 20th century on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Several Renaissance and Baroque portraits of the Virgin Mary that are part of the Allentown Art Museum’s permanent collection in Kress Gallery were rearranged to complement the installation of works from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The exhibition explored the connections between European and American art, tracking the development and evolution of the iconic Christian image of the Virgin Mary.
“We start off with Renaissance work, we move to Spanish colonial, and then we move onto modern art,” says exhibition curator Elaine Mehalakes, Allentown Art Museum Vice President of Curatorial Affairs.
The oldest work in the exhibit is “Madonna and Child with Saints” (circa 1490, tempera and gold leaf on panel, 43 in. x 31 1/2 in.) by Italian master Biagio d’Antonio Tucci from the Allentown Art Museum’s Samuel H. Kress Collection.
“Our Lady of Montserrat” (18th century, oil on canvas, 60 1/4 in. x 53 3/16 in.) by an unknown Mexican artist, features a dark-skinned Virgin and Child.
Based on a dark-skinned sculpture discovered in northeastern Spain, it is surmised the painter may have heard tales about the relic from Spanish or Portuguese Benedictine monks. The painting was on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“Blessing the Melon (The Indians Bring the Harvest to Christian Mary for Her Blessing),” by Marsden Hartley (circa 1918, oil on paperboard, 32 3/8 in. x 23 7/8 in.) was on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“The watermelon, which is so unexpected here, really draws our attention to the exchange of cultures,” says Mehalakes.
She explains that the work by the American artist incorporated “Our Lady of the Candles” imagery and pulled-back curtain tableaus with Native-American crop-blessing traditions.
The most contemporary piece was American-born Audrey Flack’s “Lady Madonna” (1972, lithograph and screenprint with gold leaf on wove paper, 34 1/8 in. x 24 in.) from the Allentown Art Museum collection.
Her photographs of Luisa Roldan’s 17th-century sculpture “Macarena Esperanza,” taken in Spain, form the basis of Flack’s 20th-century photorealistic work of a grief-stricken Mother Mary.
The exhibition was made possible by the Art Bridges + Terra Foundation Initiative, a joint program of Art Bridges and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Editor’s note: The exhibition was to conclude March 29. Because of concerns about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Allentown Art Museum, 31 N. Fifth St., Allentown, closed March 14 and is closed until further notice.
Information: www.allentownartmuseum.org; 610-432-4333