The High Museum of Art, Atlanta °

THE HIGH | 1280 Peachtree Street, N.E.
30309 Atlanta

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Definition of a masterpiece.

The Louvre and the Masterpiece will explore how the definition of a "masterpiece," as well as taste and connoisseurship, have changed over time. The exhibition will feature ninety-one works of art drawn from all eight of the Musée du Louvre's collection areas, spanning 4,000 years. Paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, and drawings will reflect three major themes: the changing historical and cultural definitions of a masterpiece; authenticity and connoisseurship; and the evolution of taste and scholarship. The exhibition is divided into three sections which together explore a range of thematic questions about the concept of a masterpiece.

What is a Masterpiece?

What is a Masterpiece? will be divided into two parts, with the first exploring the changing historical definitions of the concept of masterpiece through a selection of objects from the ancient Near East through mid-19th-century works. In the ancient world, a masterpiece was defined by an object's owner and purpose. In contrast, medieval artists' works achieved mastery within guild levels. Notable objects in this section include two such inscribed works: a Limoges ciborium (ca. 1200 A.D.), a vessel used for holding communion hosts, and a hammered bronze basin known as the Baptistery of St. Louis, (ca. late 13th/early 14th century A.D.). The Baptistery of Saint Louis was later used to baptize Louis XIII in 1610 and Napoleon III's son in 1856.

The second part of this section will introduce the idea of connoisseurship as a means of identifying works from the past as masterpieces. Displayed in pairs or groups, visitors can compare the masterwork to similar but lesser objects. The presentation will conclude with an examination of the famed Blue Head, a forgery from the Louvre's collection. For years, the glass head was believed to be an Egyptian masterpiece (ca. 1400 B.C.). Once displayed in the ancient Egyptian galleries, it was one of the most frequently reproduced works in the Louvre's collections. After careful scientific analysis, in 2001 it was confirmed to be a forgery. The head was crafted to fit into a specific art historical niche in Egyptian art and to resonate with the taste for the art deco style popular in the 1920s.

Evolution of Taste and Knowledge

Evolution of Taste and Knowledge will explore masterpieces that were either 'rediscovered' or reattributed based on the changing knowledge and perceptions of Louvre curators during the past 200 years. Included will be ten paintings and sculptures by artists who are well known today but who were overlooked in previous eras.

This section will also feature three rotations of focused installations. The first will include a Romanesque marble capital depicting the biblical story of Daniel in the Lion's Den and the early Greek sculpture called the Lady of Auxerre. A suite of fourteen drawings by the Renaissance artist Pisanello will follow. These drawings were collected by the Louvre in the nineteenth century, when they were thought to be rare works by Leonardo da Vinci. Research and new findings by curators determined that they were actually created by Pisanello, an extraordinarily gifted but lesser-known artist. Through this reattribution, an exceptional artist was discovered—or rediscovered—in modern times. A suite of prints from the Louvre's Rothschild collection of Old Master prints will form the third installation.

Barye in Context

Several major themes of the exhibition will be further explored through an in-depth examination of one significant object: French sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye's bronze Lion Crushing a Serpent. These include the significance of technical mastery and the creative process, and the impact of the artist's reputation. The presentation will also include smaller models and studies of the lion figure.

Antoine-Louis Barye was well known for his realistic depiction of animals, especially those engaged in a life-and-death struggle. This piece was commissioned by King Louis-Philippe for the Tuileries Gardens, and was on display there from 1836 to 1911. Barye pushed the technical boundaries of casting bronze sculpture by creating Lion Crushing a Serpent with one bronze pour into a single mold. He reproduced the work hundreds of times in other sizes, which were then sold as collectible objects and used as diplomatic gifts from the French government.

Exhibition Highlight: Contemporary Art at the Louvre

Since 2004 the Louvre has been inviting contemporary artists to creatively respond to their collections in a program called "Counterpoint." Artists have produced specific works that were installed in the galleries alongside the Louvre's collections, as well as shown previously created work in the new context of the Louvre galleries.

Candida Höfer (German, born 1944) is a photographer based in Cologne, Germany, who specializes in large-format color photography. She is particularly engaged by empty interiors and social spaces that capture the "psychology of social architecture." Museums, opera houses, and public libraries are among her favorite subjects.

In 2005 Höfer was invited by the Louvre to photograph in the galleries on Tuesdays, the day the museum is closed to the public. The series of photographs provided a rigorous analysis of the Louvre’s interior volumes and structural patterns, and showed the museum stripped of all human presence, revealing an elegant, timeless space inhabited by history and art.

Höfer's photograph "Salle du Manège, Musée du Louvre, Paris IX, 2005" is now on view.

Louvre Atlanta: The Louvre and the Masterpiece

Künstler: Antoine-Louis Barye, Candida Höfer, Pisanello  ...