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Smaller Shows Make a Big Impact This Summer at the Morgan

By A. E. Colas, Contributing Writer, July 6, 2017

The Morgan Library and Museum is presenting two small shows this summer that display some of the strengths of this New York institution. The collection is particularly strong in European drawing examples and the exhibit Poussin, Claude, and French Drawing in the Classical Age is a master class illustrating a particular time in French art.

‘A Hilly Landscape with Bare Trees (1639-31), Claude Gellée, called Claude Lorrain; Brush and brown wash over black chalk; courtesy of the Morgan Library and Museum.

Seventeenth century France was a dominant force in Europe, with a strong military and ruling class. The stability of this environment allowed for the humanities and sciences to expand the boundaries of knowledge, making this era known as a golden age. With church and state patronage, artists were encouraged to travel and learn from original sources in Europe. Some methods on display in this fine exhibit include the academic model of the studio setting, sketching in the outdoors, and studying classical features of ancient Rome. All of these influences add up to an ideal of refinement, greatly prized by collectors ever since. The quality of The Morgan’s holdings means that the visitor can experience the pleasure that the original patrons must have felt when seeing these beautiful images for the first time.

One such piece is Poussin’s sketch called The Holy Family on the Steps using the system of creating a diorama model, then lighting it in various ways to alter the emotional mood of the work. Another is a deceptively simple Claude drawing entitled A Hilly Landscape with Bare Trees. The eye follows the road past some small buildings nestled in the low ground then a sweeping view of the long road ahead. The balance and harmony in the image has an air of familiarity, prompting the viewer to a memory of walking in a similar landscape. Both these and the other drawings in the show are a wonderful way to learn about technique and art history.

‘Nude Hero Grappling with Lions Attacking Horned Animals,’ Mesopotamia, Sumerian, Ur, PG 800, Dromos of Queen Puabi’s Tomb on the Body of a Groom (no. 18), B16747 (U.10530), Early Dynastic llla, ca. 2550-2400 B.C., inscribed, ‘Lugal-shà-pà-da,’ cylinder seal (with modern impression), shell. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia; B16747; courtesy of the Morgan Library and Museum.

Noah’s Beasts: Sculpted Animals from Ancient Mesopotamia is a select collection of the finest examples of Mesopotamian art available in the United States. The theme of the exhibit is the story of a great flood sent by the gods to wash away the world of people. Through careful archeological work we know it is one told in other times and cultures. With the historical sites of the Middle East currently in precarious situations, The Morgan gives a timely reminder that world heritage needs protecting and preserving.

The show has been placed in a single room on the ground floor of the museum, an intimate space that keeps the visitor’s attention tightly focused on the small objects. The Morgan’s own version of the flood story, in the form of a clay tablet, is shown with a translation giving a tantalizing fragment of the tale. Votive sculptures and cylinder seals all display the skills of anonymous craftsmen, believers in the worship practices of the time and place. One of the many joys of the show is the appearance of the superlative Rearing Goat with a Flowering Plant (“Ram Caught in a Thicket”) on loan from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. A vivid example of naturalism in ancient art as well as being a beautiful religious offering, it offers a link to the people of the past that goes beyond words. When combined with reading the meticulous scholarship in a free booklet available by the entrance to the exhibit, a visitor will learn why the heritage of this part of the world should be preserved for all.


Poussin, Claude, and French Drawing in the Classical Age on view through October 15 and Noah’s Beasts: Sculpted Animals from Ancient Mesopotamia on view through August 27 at The Morgan Library and Museum (225 Madison Avenue @ 36th Street). For more information click here.


Cover: ‘Head of a Lion,’ Mesopotamia, Sumerian, Ur, PG 800, Dromos of Queen Puabi’s Tomb, U.10465, Early Dynastic llla, ca. 2550-2400 B.C., silver, lapis lazuli, and shell, 4 3/8 x 4 3/4 in. (11.1 x 12.1 cm). University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaelogy and Anthropology, Philadelphia B17064; courtesy of Morgan Library and Museum.


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