`Wonders' in context

Walters showcases bling-bling throughout the ages

Visual Arts

September 09, 2005|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

From silk-screens by Andy Warhol at Washington's Corcoran Gallery of Art to color-drenched canvases by Monet at the Baltimore Museum of Art - the 2005-2006 season is packed with offerings for all types of art lovers.

Among this year's most exciting events surely will be the Walters Art Museum's spectacular Palace of Wonders and its cornucopia of fabulous bling-bling, which goes on view Oct. 22.

Paintings, sculpture, porcelains, gemstones, clocks, carpets, watches, swords and knickknacks by the cartload were the means by which aristocrats and mercantile princes of 17th-century Netherlands and Flanders trumpeted their good fortune and virtue.

Those who could showed off their sophistication in spectacular Kunst und Wunderkammern - elaborate chambers of natural and man-made wonders gathered from around the world.

The exhibit marks the reinstallation of the museum's Renaissance and Baroque galleries. It will showcase more than 1,500 objects from oil paintings and ivory carvings to delicate jewelry, lacquer, enamel ware and richly engraved ceremonial armor.

But the museum aims to do more than merely display unimaginable riches. By presenting objects in settings similar to those they would have occupied at the end of the 1600s, the show tries to capture the spirit of an age while providing context.

"Having a sense of how something was actually used in everyday life can create a kind of bond of sympathy between viewer and object that helps you relate to it more fully," said Joaneath Spicer, the Walters' curator of Renaissance and Baroque art.

She points to a 17th-century, Dutch-made chest patterned after the Chinese style made popular by that era's bustling trade business with Asia. Its display will suggest the residence of a wealthy aristocrat or rich merchant of the 1690s, who would have complemented the Chinese chest with decorative blue-and-white Chinese porcelains and other objets d'art.

With their astounding artistic ingenuity and stunning workmanship, it's easy today to see why these treasures were showcased with such pride by their owners of 300 years ago.

For information call: 410-547-9000 or visit the Web site, www.thewalters.org.

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