Evelyn Lincoln and Emily J. Peters
In early modern Europe (1500-1800), festivals enlivened civic spaces with a frequency, scale, and magnificence unrecognizable to us today. Festivals marked ritual moments, praised political agendas, and provided public entertainment. Europe’s papal court, sovereign powers, civic governments, and high aristocracy sponsored festivals for all sorts of occasions, staging joyous entry processions when foreign dignitaries entered a city, celebrating coronations, marriages, royal births, and funerals, and honoring saint’s days and Carnival season. Festivals shaped the public spaces of European cities. Buildings, plazas, stairways, and roadways were constructed specifically with festivals in mind. Likewise, festivals put the social structure of the city on public display. Priests, heads of state, royal retinues, merchants, soldiers, commoners, peasants, and servants all took part. Some festivals, such as processions, reinforced social hierarchies in real and symbolic ways, while others invited release from social norms through terrifying explosions of fire, public combats, bullfights, and offerings of free food and wine for the populace.
Well-funded by the ruling classes, festivals mobilized artists and designers in cities such as Rome, Antwerp, and Paris, providing them with steady work and a large audience. As festival culture reached its zenith in the 18th century, sustained by the centralized power of absolutist regimes, each monarch employed his or her own precision team of painters, architects, scenographers, and pyro- technicians to produce ever more extraordinary and astonishing spectacles. Many of the architectural displays and decorations made for festivals were ephemeral. Far from sloppy in appearance or construction, these structures, though temporary, displayed some of the finest inventions by the best artistic talents of the day. Festival architecture persuaded its audience of the wealth, power, or legitimacy of the sponsor, so much so that sponsors sought to record their largesse for posterity through festival books and prints that rivaled the festivals themselves in magnificence.
The advantages of print were clear: not only were lavish festival books and single-sheet prints long-lasting, they provided wide distribution, a fixed, unambiguous message, and an ideal record of events, unencumbered by accidents of weather, stubborn animals, errant fireworks, uncooperative participants, or drunken crowds. Festival books mirrored the scale and ingenuity of each event with such features as pages that unfold to four times the size of the book to show scenes packed with crowds and action. As papermaking and printmaking technologies advanced, festival books grew into oversize folios with even larger foldout plates made by printing individual illustrations from multiple copperplates upon several sheets of paper pasted together. In the 16th century festival books often emphasized the architectural specifications for the ephemeral architecture and presented complex political arguments, often in Latin, for a highly learned audience. By the 18th century, festival books proudly detailed every firework, identified every noble participant with descriptions of their clothing, and illustrated every structure, its size, and materials, all in the vernacular. Audiences throughout Europe read the books like today’s celebrity magazines, soaking in their magnificence and envisioning the colors, sights, sounds, smells, and wonders of the event.
Such books, expensive to produce, were given by the event’s sponsor to advantageous connections at foreign European courts and city governments or purchased by wealthy collectors, some of whom went to the effort and expense of commissioning hand coloring and personalized gold-stamped bindings. The experience of paging through such weighty volumes and opening their foldout plates featuring vast city views was interactive and immersive, an event enjoyed in groups while reading aloud. Single-leaf prints for festivals had a somewhat different path. The Chinea (pronounced Key-nay-ah) prints in this exhibition were printed in large editions months in advance, to be distributed on the day of the event and also sent abroad; other prints in the exhibition were produced quickly in order to spread information about events far away, somewhat akin to newspapers today; still others appealed to print collectors for their relationship to particular artists as well as to festivals. The prints and books on view in The Festive City are among our only traces of these staggeringly expensive but fleeting events. Drawn primarily from the private collection of Vincent J. Buonanno, Brown University Library’s Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, and the RISD Museum, they present early modern festivals in all their forms—from processions to fireworks displays to banquets and Carnival races.
Emily Peters, Evelyn Lincoln, and Andrew S. Raftery
Renaissance engravings are objects of exquisite beauty and incomparable intricacy that are composed entirely of lines. Artists began using this intaglio process in Europe as early as 1430. This captivating catalogue focuses on the height of the medium, from 1480 to 1650, when engravers made dramatic and rapid visual changes to engraving technique as they responded to the demands of reproducing artworks in other media. The Brilliant Line follows these visual transformations and offers new insight into the special inventiveness and technical virtuosity of Renaissance and Baroque (Early Modern) engravers. The three essays discuss how engraving’s restrictive materials and the physical process of engraving informed its visual language; the context for the spread of particular engraving styles throughout Europe; and the interests, knowledge, and skills that Renaissance viewers applied when viewing and comparing engravings by style or school.
Judith Tannenbaum and Maya Allison
For the past decade, Providence, RI, has been the site of a radical underground art scene, giving rise to a multi-faceted, unbridled aesthetic that is as distinct as it is influential. As a celebration of the movement, The Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design is presenting the exhibition Wunderground. The companion publication, Wunderground- Providence, 1995 to the Present features a foreword by celebrated artist and designer Gary Panter, 128 pages of full color illustrations and 4 fold-out gatefolds. Artists, musicians, writers and students who created and witnessed the rise of the movement offer shorter texts providing a kaleidoscopic portrait of a time and place.
Maureen C. O'Brien, Linda Catano, and Anna Gruetzner Robins
The lives of the six men depicted in Edgar Degas' Six Friends at Dieppe - as well as Degas himself - are explored. The history of the painting's placement in the RISD Museum's collection is traced back to Degas' relationship with one of the men featured in the painting. The narrative is interspersed with paintings, photographs, and excerpts from various memoirs, autobiographies and correspondences.
Judith Tannenbaum and Marion Boulton Stroud
Wallpaper was once ubiquitous and is still common in domestic settings, but it has rarely been given the same kind of attention bestowed on fine-art objects or other applied arts. Nonetheless, many artists– from Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) to William Morris (1834-96) and Andy Warhol (1928-87) — have created wallpaper and considered this activity to be a significant endeavor.
Christopher P. Monkhouse and Thomas Michie
Published as a catalog for the exhibition: Cabinetmakers and collectors: Colonial furniture and its revival in Rhode Island
Kermit S. Champa
French art from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries forms one of the strongest areas of our holdings. In addition to the paintings and sculpture that are normally on view in our galleries, the Department of Graphic Arts is blessed with an impressive array of watercolors and drawings by most of the figures that gave such prominence to the period. Yet the breadth and quality of this collection has only been suggested by those few drawings by Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and van Gogh that are exhibited with some regularity. We have long felt the need to systematically research, publish and exhibit a larger group of these sheets, thus sharing with our several publics one of the true treasures of this Museum.
Since 1966, when its first acquisitions of modem Latin American art were exhibited and published, the Nancy Sayles Day Collection has continued to provide the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design with its greatest opportunity for participating in the adventure of the present.
Luke Vincent Lockwood
This book has been published by the Rhode Island School of Design, at the request of the late Charles L. Pendleton, of Providence, Rhode Island, and as a fitting appreciation of his gift of this splendid collection, which is about to be placed in a fire-proof house especially designed for its housing, where it will be open to the public.
This book is essentially a catalogue of the collection, and takes up the description of the pieces in the order of their arrangement in the rooms. It has been the aim of the author, however, to make this volume something more than a catalogue descriptive of the pieces, and in a number of instances matters of general information regarding decoration and style have been given, in the hope that the reader will find it of sufficient interest to read the volume consecutively. There are two essential features to be noted in determining the period to which a given specimen belongs: the outline and the decoration. The latter seems never to have been given sufficient weight; and for that reason specimens of Dutch and Chippendale furniture have been hopelessly mixed. Any articles of furniture made during the first three-quarters of the eighteenth century, which are superior in construction or decoration, have been called Chippendale. It has been the endeavor of the writer to point out some distinctions, and in a measure to correct the faulty and indefinite classification.
For the technical descriptions of the clock works the writer is indebted to Mr. Walter H. Durfee, of Providence; and for material for the notes on the porcelain and English wares, to the numerous excellent books on those special subjects.