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CMA’s Gothic, Renaissance, Islamic galleries re-opened after seven-year hiatus

1/31/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

With the opening of the Gothic, Renaissance and Islamic galleries at the Cleveland Museum of Art, visitors will be able to view “Virgin and Child with Saints,” by Ugolino da Siena.
Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art
CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Museum of Art’s (CMA) expansion and renovation project is winding to a close this year, as evidenced by the recent re-opening of the Gothic, Renaissance and Islamic galleries, which makes available 450 works that have not been seen in quite some time.

The artwork is showcased in the recently renovated galleries of the first level of the museum’s original 1916 Beaux-Arts building. Within each historical area, objects are organized thematically and incorporate a variety of media. The installations are presented in integrated displays that foster an understanding of the social and historical contexts within which these works of art were produced. As examples, portions of columns are positioned where they likely would have been when they were part of the building from where they came, while stained glass windows hang on the walls with light behind them to give context to how they would originally have been viewed.

While some of the more prominent pieces within the Gothic (or Medieval), Renaissance and Islamic collections are back with added emphasis in their positioning within the galleries, there are several new works to CMA that are sure to catch viewers’ eyes.

The strength of CMA’s late medieval holdings, for example, lies, as officials of the museum note, in objects of major historical and artistic significance, such as the group of mourners from the tomb of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Others are the exquisite illuminated manuscript, “Hours of Queen Isabella the Catholic, Queen of Spain” and the only known complete French “Table Fountain” (c. 1300-1350).

But new to this area and next to the Isabella work is Gil de Siloe’s “Enthroned Virgin and Child” from the 1480s, which is a smallish, very formal and regal looking carved alabaster sculpture. Significantly, the work is one of only four, according to CMA officials, by the Spanish artist in the United States.

Incorporated within the displays of Renaissance painting and sculpture are fine examples of decorative arts from Renaissance Europe, adding rich context for visitors’ understanding of the broad range of artwork created during this time. The galleries seem to be lush and overflowing with the wealth and depth of CMA’s collections. A display of German Green Glass tumblers and goblets from the 15th to 17th centuries and a grouping of lead-glazed earthenware by French ceramicist Bernard Palissy and his workshop are a focal point in the 16th century German and French painting and decorative arts gallery.

The Islamic collection includes works from 10 countries and spans 1,300 years, ranging from antiquity to the modern day. The new works added to the collection stand out significantly. You won’t have to go searching for them. You’ll likely find small groups gathered around them or notice them immediately as you enter the particular gallery space.

One newly acquired contemporary work is a woven polyethylene shadow installation called “His Lantern” (2006), by Afruz Amaghi. It’s quite captivating, for it looks in format like a traditional prayer rug with a widespread intricate middle eastern pattern on it, but is shown by front lighting on the piece as added to by the image that is cast on the wall behind. The work is very dramatic.

In another mode, there is a photograph that is a chromogenic print mounted on aluminum by Lalla Essaydi called “Harem #14” from 2008. As the didactic for the work notes, it depicts a reality where a disobedient woman could be confined in solitude for a month or more, accompanied only by servants. Yet, the vividness and intricacy of the photograph give the notion of a cold but stunning isolation.

Entrance to the Gothic, Renaissance and Islamic collections is free.

CMA is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays. For more information, call 888-CMA-0033 or visit www.ClevelandArt.org.

Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and an avid art enthusiast. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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