Rare Works on Loan to the Museum
The Art Museum has received on long-term loan from a private collection two rare and intriguing works of art from the Early Modern period. The painting from Central Europe and bust from Italy enhance the Museum’s display and represent aspects of the period that add depth and complexity to the teaching of Renaissance art and culture.
Lucas Cranach’s Judgment of Solomon (1526) is one of the few paintings of Old Testament subjects in this prolific artist’s oeuvre. Executed in the 1520s and early ’30s, his themes from the Hebrew Bible were greatly outnumbered by portraits, Christian subjects, and mythological works. Judgment of Solomon is one of two versions of the composition—the other is in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin—and it carries multiple meanings beyond the simple narrative. During the 1520s, the lands making up the Holy Roman Empire were divided between the Protestant reformers and the Catholic Church, and the German Peasants’ War of 1524–25 pitted social classes against each other. In this time when the authority of both Church and State was questioned, some of Cranach’s patrons may have looked to the Bible for ethical and moral exempla, and the vital importance of kingly or imperial justice, personified by such historical figures as Solomon, was underscored in civic decorations.
The fifteenth-century Florentine terracotta bust of Saint John the Baptist captures the New Testament figure mid-movement, with his head turned toward his left and his lips parted, as if about to speak. His gaze extends into the distance, suggesting that he is still formulating his thoughts. John’s subtle motion and psychological complexity animate the traditional format of the bust and engage the viewer.
Careful attention to different textures, such as the camel hair of John’s shirt, the knot in his tunic, and his smooth flesh, also invite careful study. As the patron saint of Florence, John the Baptist was frequently represented as a youthful figure in Renaissance sculptures and placed within domestic settings to inspire pious behavior.
The loan of these two works creates an exceptional opportunity to place them in conversation with paintings and sculptures in the European galleries and to include them in course discussions. Some of the classes that will analyze Saint John the Baptist and Judgment of Solomon during Museum visits include Italian, history, museum studies, and art history.