Many discoveries surround the more than 300 objects John Ringling purchased in 1927 from Alva Vanderbilt Belmonts "Gothic Room in Marble House at Newport, Rhode Island". These discoveries will be explored in The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
s newest exhibition "Gothic Art in the Gilded Age: Medieval and Renaissance Treasures in the Gavet-Vanderbilt-Ringling Collection", on view December 19, 2009 through April 4, 2010.
The exhibition considers the development of the collecting and display of medieval and early Renaissance art in the United States during the Gilded Age- a term coined to describe the ostentatious wealth accumulated by America between 1870 and World War I-using the collection at the core of the Ringling Museums medieval and early Renaissance holdings. Comprising nearly 340 paintings, sculptures, and works of decorative art including metalwork, furniture, and ceramics made across Europe chiefly between 1100 and 1550, this group of objects belonged to three successive owners: the urbane collector-dealer Émile Gavet (1830?1904), socialite Alva Vanderbilt Belmont (18531933), and circus impresario John Ringling (18661936).
Each collector displayed the works of art differently. Gavet and Vanderbilt created interiors which romantically conjured an imaginary past: Gavets gallery evoked French Renaissance collectors cabinets, while Alva Vanderbilt constructed a medieval French setting for the works of art. Ringling used some pieces to enrich the interior of his mansion, and others to expand his museums collection of European paintings and sculpture.
Using vintage photography, sections of the Gavet apartment, the Gothic Room at Newport, and Ringlings original residential and museum installations are recreated in the exhibition galleries. Vintage photographs of the collectors, their homes, and their displays, archival material, and nineteenth-century catalogues of Gavets collections will also be included to provide further context. Innovative hand-held didactics will assist visitors in looking closely at individual objects, while the historic recreations invite visitors to step, quite literally, into three distinct worlds of the past, and experience this collection as its former Gilded Age owners did.
This collection at the heart of this exhibition is fascinating, not the least because its more than 300 pieces remained essentially together for more than 100 years, despite belonging to three different owners, said Dr. Virginia Brilliant, Associate Curator of European Art at the Ringling Museum. The exhibition gave me the opportunity to focus intensely on this group of objects whose collective heritage was in a sense lost when John Ringling scattered its constituent pieces throughout his mansion and museum. As I worked on the show, I was even lucky enough to rediscover in our storage vaults pieces of the collection we thought were lost. To take all of these pieces and re-unite them in one place provides an inviting and rich context to tell the story the collection and the three collectors who owned it.
This exhibition is undertaken in partnership with The Preservation Society of Newport County, and following their presentation at the Ringling, the objects will travel to Marble House, their first American home, where they will be reinstalled in the Gothic Room from April 2010-October 2010. A hardcover, 211-page catalogue will accompany the exhibition.
The Museum will host a symposium American Gothic, on February 26-27, 2010, focusing on the theme of the collecting and display of medieval and Renaissance art in Europe and America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This symposium will be one of the first scholarly gatherings to address this topic, and speakers include scholars from the Musée du Louvre, the Victoria & Albert Museum, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hearst Castle, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Preservation Society of Newport County. Tickets for the symposium are $25 for students and educators with a valid ID, $75 for general public and $50 for Ringling Museum members. To register for this program, call Advance Ticket Sales at 941.358.3180.