Icons or Portraits? Images of Jesus and Mary from the Collection of Michael Hall
November 8, 2003 - January 18, 2004
One of the most historically important private art collections ever to come to the Crocker, Icons or Portraits? Images of Jesus and Mary from the Collection of Michael Hall, is comprised of more than 100 objects, mostly sculptural, spanning the Western artistic tradition from the twelfth through the twentieth centuries. Featuring premier examples in silver, bronze, ivory, marble, wood, silver, enamel, stucco, terra cotta and other materials, the collection includes works by some of the most renowned Renaissance and Baroque sculptors in Europe, including Donatello, Desiderio da Settignano, Andrea del Verrocchio, Giambologna, Daniele da Volterra, Moderno and Alessandro Algardi.
Offering Northern Californians a rare opportunity to see extraordinary works by some of the finest sculptors in the Western European tradition, the exhibition also includes various paintings, manuscript illuminations and Limoges enamels, as well as various pieces of related Asian and African sculpture.
These works, many of which have never been exhibited or published, hail from the private collection of Michael Hall, an American scholar and connoisseur. As a group, they tell the story of how artists have represented the sacred, creating a repertory of images whose endurance through the centuries has often derived from a reliance on visual prototypes. On a different level, they also tell the story of a passionate collector of European art who has amassed what is considered to be one of the best private art collections in America.
Jesus and Mary are arguably the most important subjects in Western literature and the visual arts. Central to Christian religious thought and imagery for more than 2,000 years, iconic and narrative images of Jesus and Mary recur in paintings, drawings, sculpture, manuscripts and many other art forms. From symbolic early Christian images to modern interpretations, these seminal figures have served as objects of devotion and aesthetic appreciation. Through the centuries, their images have evolved in ways that reflect religious and socio-political developments, stylistic evolutions and aesthetic preferences.
This exhibition highlights the centrality of Jesus and Mary to the history of Western art, and challenges viewers to consider how these figures are consistently recognized despite social and artistic evolutions and a Biblical absence of physical descriptions. The collection also prompts a number of questions, among them: With such a dearth of textual information regarding Jesus's appearance, how are we able to recognize his image? How has a specific facial type become so closely associated with Jesus? How has this type changed over time while retaining its identity? What roles have persisting visual traditions and typologies played in constructing a readily identifiable image of him? Do similar typologies exist for representations of the Virgin Mary?
This exhibition was organized by the Gallery of the American Bible Society, New York.