Nardo di Cione most likely painted this altarpiece for the most important church in Florence: the Duomo. The cathedral housed the relics of Saint Zenobius and the city’s original patron saint, Reparata—both depicted here. Nardo painted the altarpiece in the wake of the Black Death, or bubonic plague, which struck Florence in 1348 and took the lives of two-thirds of the population. For their post-plague compositions, he and his contemporaries returned to a Gothic tradition, evident here in the use of gold grounds, the traditional manner of representing the changeless luminosity of the eternal.
The coat of arms in the upper left corner offers a clue to this sitter’s lineage, but his identity remains unknown. He extends his right hand through the simulated oval frame and into the viewer’s space, holding a painted miniature of a young woman, perhaps his betrothed or wife. Before the advent of photography in the nineteenth century, the well-to-do commissioned portrait miniatures as portable and intimate mementoes of loved ones.
In their formal full-length portraits, Old and New World elites proudly defined themselves through their things. The colonial Peruvian nobleman Tadeo Bravo de Rivero sat for Francisco de Goya y Lucientes wearing the brilliant scarlet uniform of a cavalry officer. The medal of the chivalric Order of Santiago displayed on his lapel points to one of the ways that Creoles (American-born Spaniards) elevated their rank within the empire’s social and racial hierarchy. At the officer’s feet is a dog, the traditional symbol of fidelity, suggesting the subject’s devotion to his king.
Having already explored the play of water and light, Claude Monet took up the challenge of capturing the transformative beauty of London’s fog and smoke. During three winter painting trips from 1899 to 1901, he executed a number of works along the banks of the Thames. Stationing himself on the balcony of Saint Thomas’ Hospital, across the river from his subject, he substituted one canvas for another—nineteen in all—as changing weather and light conditions dictated. The Houses of Parliament emerge as a massive silhouette amid the late-afternoon gloom. Rays of pale sunshine break through at the upper right and shimmer on the water below in overlapping strokes of color.
With loose, expressive brushstrokes and raw, emotional detail, Vasily Vereshchagin conveys on a massive scale the horrors of the Russo-Turkish War. In the winter of 1877, while working as a war correspondent, he witnessed thousands of Turkish prisoners freezing to death as they were marched to Russian war camps.
Vereshchagin’s war canvases exemplify the avant-garde Russian interpretation of French Realism, a movement that embraced truthful portrayals of contemporary themes to bring about social reform. The openly antiwar The Road of the War Prisoners was rejected for the czar’s collection. In 1891 Vereshchagin finally sold both canvases displayed here to collectors in New York still haunted by the horrors of the American Civil War.
Beaux-Arts Court, 3rd Floor
This installation of our European Art collection spans the Early Renaissance through World War II, showcasing the breadth of works within the collection.
The selection of paintings and sculptures addresses identity-making in Europe through themes of faith (The Sacred: Religious Art), status (The Secular: Portraiture), and a sense of place (The Menacing Landscape and The Tranquil Landscape).
The installation includes paintings by American artists working in Europe or responding to European traditions at home, broadening the traditional borders of the collection and reflecting our expansive, transatlantic approach and our commitment to rethinking the global context in which these works are presented.
Also on view are four bronze sculptures by Auguste Rodin, including one preparatory nude and three figures cast from Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais. This grouping invites consideration of the role of historical monuments and their ability to reexamine past narratives. Our Rodin collection, composed of more than sixty sculptures, came to us through the generosity of Iris and B. Gerald Cantor.
Generous support for the installation of the European galleries as a part of the Brooklyn Museum’s Countdown to Launch initiatives is provided by Leslie and Alan Beller.