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Museum Monday – Chicago Art Institute

Museum Monday

Mary Jo Gibson

On today’s Museum Monday, I will take you on a virtual tour of the Chicago Art Institute, one of my personal favorites.  Founded in 1879 as both a museum and a school, the Institute opened at its present site in 1893, built on rubble from the 1871 Chicago fire.  The museum originally housed a selection of plaster casts, the collection now encompasses more than 5,000 years of human expression from cultures around the world.

The Art Institute utilizes the internet through its past exhibitions page, allowing access to the featured art from historical shows.  I think this is a great addition to any museum’s online presence, while the event may be over there is no reason not to keep it alive through the internet.   A favorite from this page is Divine Art: Four Centuries of European Tapestries.

One of these beautiful displays dates from 1535, telling the story of Pomona and Vertumnus.  The young woman kneeling in the foreground, holding a branch with leaves and flowers is Pomona, the Roman nymph of apples and orchards.  The young man shown in profile to her immediate right is Vertumnus, the Proteus-like god who symbolized the passing of the seasons.  According to the story, Vertumnus was in love with the beautiful Pomona, who was devoted to gardening and uninterested in courtship.  He tried to woo her, at first in vain, but eventually won her heart.  The tapestry is the first scene of five and depicts Pomona’s disinterest in all the various suitors shown.  The series to which this piece belongs is the earliest surviving narrative ensemble illustrating the entirety of Ovid’s tale.

Rounding out the exhibition is a podcast that relates the history of tapestries.

Another exhibition from earlier years is The Medici, Michelangelo and the art of Late Renaissance Florence.

A detailed survey of the art and culture of 16th century Florence, the crucible of the Italian Renaissance (1537-1631), where a spectacular flowering of the arts and sciences occurred.  This cultivation of culture was presided over by the first four Medici grand dukes – Cosimo I, his sons Francesco I and Ferdinando I, and his grandson Cosimo II – and exemplified by the pioneering achievements and dominant legacy of Michelangelo Buonarro.

Michelangelo Buonarro

Celebrated during his lifetime for his extraordinary talent as a sculptor, architect, painter, draftsman and poet, Michelangelo inspired subsequent Florentine artists and attracted the city’s most powerful patrons – notably the Medici grand dukes.  Their extensive and enlightened patronage allowed art in all media to flourish.  In addition to commission portraits and decorative objects for private and public display, the Medici family ordered the reconstruction of numerous civic buildings and private residences.  They established several major institutions for scientific practice and artistic production, including Europe’s first artist academy.

The pathfinder floor plan allows access to galleries and exhibitions on all levels,  allowing the virtual visitor encompassing views of many of the galleries in 360 degrees.  Featured rooms include European decorative arts, Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman artifacts, Indian and Islamic art, Southeast Asian and Himalayan art, and Chinese, Japanese and Korean art.  These panoramic sights do not take away from the ‘museum experience’, only enticing the viewer with the collections available during a personal visit.

A final stop on our virtual tour is the Chicago Stock Exchange, located in the lower level of the Institute in a hidden dining room.  Chicago, being a major center for American architecture since the late 19th century, hired the city’s most important early architects Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler and the Exchange was constructed in 1893.  When the original Stock Exchange was demolished in 1972, sections of Sullivan’s elaborate stenciled decorations, molded plasters capitals and art glass were preserved from the Trading Room.  Using these fragments, the Art Institute was able to reconstruct the Trading Room in its new Rubloff Building.

I have had the privilege of viewing and photographing this exceptional area, steeped in the history of Chicago’s famed early architecture.  It is truly one of the secrets awaiting discovery at the Art Institute.

Door Lock depicting Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1911

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual visit of the Chicago Art Institute.  I look forward to visiting the Institute in a few weeks, and will share my experiences with you on a future post of Museum Monday.  Take a few moments to peruse the links and let me know if there is anything you might like to read more about as I plan my trip.


Mary Jo

Cupid's Hunting Fields, 1885, Edward Burne Jones



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