Saturday, February 10, 2018
Art in 17th-Century Life: Robert Nanteuil
At work we have been incredibly busy preparing for a new exhibition opening tomorrow in Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library. The show is entitled "Art in Life: Engravings by Robert Nanteuil (c. 1623-1678) from the Frederick Paul Keppel Collection," and was curated by students in the MA program in Art History at Columbia, under the guidance of the MA director Frédérique Baumgartner and the Curator of Art Properties (yours truly). This is the first time that the MA program has partnered with Art Properties to utilize art from the permanent collection for an exhibition, thus giving the students an opportunity to curate an exhibition. It has been a lot of work to do this for all involved, including everything from selecting the prints, digitizing them, conserving one, mounting and matting them, and so on, not to mention all the work we've done environmentally, including retrofitting display cases, installing new LED lighting, and constructing faux walls. The short-term work, however, is going to benefit all in the long run, as this is the beginning of what we hope will be a recurring annual exhibition curated by a new student group each year. Below is a view of one of the cases showcasing some of the prints on display.
Nanteuil grew up in Reims, France, where he trained as an engraver. He settled in Paris in 1646-47 and soon established himself as portraitist to the court of King Louis XIV, the famous Sun King, eventually rising to the position of Designer and Engraver to the King. Over the course of his career Nanteuil made over 230 painstakingly realistic portraits, most of which were ad vivum (taken from life). Many of the prints went through multiple states and editions with altered backgrounds. Most are traditional window-style framed portraits as you see in the installation view here. However, a few show individuals in particular settings. The 1659 print of Cardinal Jules Mazarin (1602-1661) at the top of this post is taken from a portrait by Pierre Mignard, rather than life, but Nanteuil depicts him seated in his palace with his kunstkammer of scientific instruments and gallery of ancient and modern sculpture behind him. Among the prints in the exhibition this one is one of my favorites, even if it is atypical of Nanteuil's style. Rather than a straight-on portrait, the print contextualizes Mazarin as a connoisseur and collector, and arguably foreshadows depictions of over famous collectors over time, most notably Charles Willson Peale's The Artist in His Museum, 1822 (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts).
These prints were owned by Frederick Paul Keppel, a former dean of Columbia College and son of the NYC print dealer Frederick Keppel. In 1947, 184 of the Nanteuil prints were donated to Avery Library by F.P. Keppel's widow, and for this exhibition the students selected 16 to showcase, arranged in 4 cases with various themes. The exhibition is open to all 9am-5pm Monday-Friday, until May 18, 2018. There is also an online exhibition: http://projects.mcah.columbia.edu/ma/2017.