EXHIBITIONS | Face to Face to Face

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Paula Nuttall and Catherine Hess discuss “Virgin and Child” and its companion diptych at the exhibition’s press preview on Sept. 27, 2013. Photograph by Lisa Blackburn.

“Face to Face: Flanders, Florence, and Renaissance Painting” opens on Saturday in the Boone Gallery at The Huntington and features more than two dozen paintings by Renaissance luminaries such as Domenico Ghirlandaio, Hans Memling, Pietro Perugino, and Rogier van der Weyden.

Be sure to pick up a copy of the accompanying catalog by Paula Nuttall, co-curator of the show along with Catherine Hess, The Huntington’s chief curator of European art. On Nov. 15 Nuttall will give a lecture here, offering a new angle on Renaissance art as she explores the impact of Flemish painting in Florence.

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The front cover of the exhibition catalog, published by the Huntington Library Press, features “Portrait of a Man” by Domenico Ghirlandaio.

If you remove the dust jacket of the new book and place it flat on a table, you’ll see two of the faces that launched the new exhibition: Rogier van der Weyden’s Virgin from Virgin and Child, ca. 1460 (detailed on the back cover and on display in the left side of the case above), and Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of a Man, ca. 1490 (featured as the cover image, at left). This bookending is appropriate since the Flemish Virgin and Child opens the show and the Italian Man and Woman close it. All three are from The Huntington’s Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Collection.

The first section of “Face to Face” features several diptych pairings, including Virgin and Child with its original companion diptych panel, Portrait of Philippe de Croÿ, on loan from the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp (in case photographed above, at right). Diptychs are two-panel paintings hinged to open and close like a book—a common format at the time that enabled the works to stand open on a table or altar. In the photo above, Nuttall and Hess discuss the pairing at the press preview that took place this morning. This marks the first time the two panels are on display together in Southern California.

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“Portrait of a Woman,” ca. 1490, by Domenico Ghirlandaio. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In her introduction to Nuttall’s catalog, Hess writes that these three Renaissance masterpieces—Virgin and Child and Ghirlandaio’s two portraits—“provide ideal examples to tell the story of the cultural, economic, and artistic links between Flanders and Florence in the second half of the 15th century.”

Hess goes on to write, referring first to Virgin and Child:

“The former sets up the story, embodying elements that exerted tremendous impact south of the Alps: the astonishing rendering of real-life materials and their textures, the sensitive and emotionally charged depictions of sacred figures, and the realism and immediacy of portrait subjects, to name a few of the most evident. The latter pair of paintings reveals the integration of many Flemish characteristics by one of the most notable painters active in early Renaissance Florence. Between these Huntington-owned objects, which function like bookends to the exhibition, some of the finest examples of 15th-century painting, borrowed from numerous American and European institutions, help to articulate the exhibition’s theme while, at the same time, introducing our visitors to a category of painting that has not traditionally been associated with The Huntington.”

“Face to Face: Flanders, Florence, and Renaissance Painting” will be on view through Jan. 13, 2014, in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery at The Huntington. Face to Face: Flanders, Florence, and Renaissance Painting, by Paula Nuttall, was published by the Huntington Library Press and is available for purchase from the Huntington’s gift shop.

Matt Stevens is editor of Verso and Huntington Frontiers magazine.

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