May 2, 1936:
On the evening of Friday May 8th the Brooklyn Museum will open with a reception and private view for members and guests of the museum an exhibition of European Arts of the Second Half of the Fifteenth Century. The collection has been assembled, installed and catalogued by the Rockefeller Foundation Internes of the Brooklyn Museum: Mr. Howard Harrison Alger, Mr. A. Donald MacDonald, Mr. Donald A. Shelley, Mr. John Davis Skilton, Jr., Mr. A. John Tobler, and Dr. Hermann Warner Williams. Sponsors of the exhibition are: Walter W. S. Cook, Horace H. F. Jayne, John Marshall, C. Rufus Morey, Paul J. Sachs, Theodore Sizer and David H. Stevens.
In this exhibition the Brooklyn Museum presents for the first time in America a comparative showing of European art for a single half-century, assembling not only painting and sculpture, but also examples of the applied arts. The exhibition has been assembled from the collections of the Hon. Herbert H. Lehman, Mr. W. G. Russell Allen, Mr. and Mrs. J. D. Buhrer, Mr. and Mrs. George Blumenthal, Colonel W. S. Draper, Dr. A. S. Drey, Mr. Richard Ederheimer, Mr. E. W. Edwards, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur L. Erlanger, Mr. Robert Garrett, Mr. Howard Goodhart, Mr. William Randolph Hearst, Mrs. Edouard L. Jonas, Mrs. Otto Kahn, Dr. Dikian G. Kelekian, Mr. Theodore Offerman,Mrs. Sarah G. T. Fell, Mr. Dan Fellows Platt, Mrs. A. Kingsley Porter, Professor Paul
J. Sachs, Mr. John M. Schiff, Mr. Henry Schniewind, Mr. Julius H. Weitzner, Mr. Samuel Yellin, and from many museums and dealers’ galleries.
In addition to painting and sculpture, manuscripts, books, prints, drawings, tapestries and other textiles, furniture, ivories, silver, coins, arms and armor, miscellaneous metal work, ceramics and glass are included giving a comprehensive cross section of European arts for the period 1450–1500.
This exhibition has been arranged to illustrate and to contrast the art of various countries in Western Europe during the years 1450–1500, one of the most important periods in the history of art. Both historical and artistic changes have played their part in making this period one of especial interest. First of all there is the marked contrast between the South with its idealistic portrayal of characters and the North with its interest in realistic portraiture even of sacred personages. While the Renaissance with its glorification of Classical antiquity and its attempt to reproduce pagan types in art was well under way in Italy, the Northern Countries were just beginning to break away from the domination of the Church and from the Mediaeval conceptions which had governed life and art during the preceding centuries.
The Hundred Years’ War ended during this half-century. As a result of this war many of the old aristocratic families of the North had been wiped out and the middle class began to assume a more important position in the economic and social world. These newly rich people loved to see themselves and their possessions in pictures and so for the first time portraiture evolved, especially in Flanders and Burgundy. The individual dominates even religious pictures, for the donor instead of being a minor character in the corner of the picture, now crowds even the Holy Family.
In Italy the pagan inheritance of Classical Rome which had never completely died out led to a glorification of the naked human form; even the faces and bodies of the Virgin and Child lost their homely quality and took on an ideal ethereal beauty. Furthermore, due to the vast wall surfaces in churches and public buildings monumental frescoes were employed. This led to a certain largeness and simplicity of composition so characteristic of Italian painting. The Gothic structures of the North afforded but scanty space for mural decoration.
The love of color was satisfied by the stained glass windows which shed their radiance upon the upper walls while tapestries wore hung between the piers. These charmed the populace with their decorative backgrounds and lively pictured stories. From an origin which can be traced back to the illuminations in manuscripts, grew the small panel paintings which characterized painting in the North. Along with the fresco technique pure tempura painting was employed in Italy in almost all cases, while in the North a new technique consisting of overpainting a tempera base with transparent oil glazes was used.
France during this period developed an elegant and sophisticated art. The king was surrounded by a number of rich and powerful nobles, many of whom were generous patrons of art. As was natural, this courtly art reflected the aristocratic character of its millieu. At this period one finds a rejuvenation of the earlier Gothic spirit with its truly religious feelings and restraint both in the art and culture of this country. Nowhere else in Europe does this take place.
Spain shows, despite the decay of the Moorish rule and the final expulsion of the Moslems from Spain, a continued influence of Mozarabic ideas particularly in ornament. This was largely due to the employment of Moorish craftsmen by Christian patrons. The close commercial and political connection between Flanders and Spain and their mutual love of realism led to the adaptation of Flemish technique and ideals in painting.
The comparative scarcity of English art of the period is largely the result of the iconoclasm of the later centuries which stripped the churches of their furnishings. Despite this, England at this period must be regarded as artistically behind its continental neighbors.