Sarasota, Florida.- In a sweeping exhibition filled with prints and paintings showing triumphal allegories both sacred and secular, meditative landscapes, stately portraits, violent hunts, and fleshy female beauties from classical mythology who inspired the term “Rubenesque,” the Ringling Museum presents in partnership with the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, “Peter Paul Rubens: Impressions of a Master”, on view at the museum from February 17th through June 3rd. The exhibition features more than 100 magnificent paintings and prints by and after Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), that together celebrate the legacy of one of the greatest artists of all time. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Ringling will host noted Rubens scholars for a two day symposium on the artist’s Triumph of the Eucharist Series tapestry series, from March 30-31, 2012. Five large-scale canvases related to the series grace the Ringling’s Rubens Galleries and are highlights of the Museum’s collection.
“Peter Paul Rubens’ canvases depicting the Triumph of the Eucharist series are the crown jewels and anchors of the Ringling Museum’s collection. For sheer spectacle, the Ringling’s Rubens Galleries are unrivalled in any museum in America,” said Steven High, executive director of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. “Rubens created for himself an illustrious career and is truly one of art history’s giants. This exhibition brings his distinctive style to the fore, as well as revealing the breadth of his artistic productions, from the paintings that made him famous to the prints that made his work available to a wide and international public.” Renowned for his virtuoso handling of oil paint, energetic compositions, and dramatic, triumphal, and often sensual style, Rubens was also an international diplomat, a shrewd businessman, a scholar and collector, a friend to rulers and thinkers, and the director of a large workshop. Europe’s kings and princes prized his works, which included altarpieces and other religious pictures, portraits, hunt and mythological scenes, and monumental decorative programs in oil paint and in tapestry. At the height of his career, Rubens undertook a campaign to reproduce and disseminate his paintings, drawings, and tapestry designs in printed format. “Peter Paul Rubens: Impressions of a Master” will be the Ringling’s first ever exhibition devoted to the work of its preeminent artist. The exhibition also invites visitors to discover a little-known aspect of Rubens’s artistic practice – his printmaking. Rubens was not simply an artist – with the help of his workshop and his collaborators, including his printmakers, he created a global “brand,” a particular style and a hallmark of quality valued the world over.
Rubens realized that through prints, his most famous compositions could be enjoyed by an international public, by those who could not afford his paintings or travel to see his magnificent schemes. Dissatisfied with the earlier, frequently unauthorized reproductions of his work, Rubens rather unusually obtained legal authority to copyright his images, engaging, it would seem, with the very same intellectual property issues that beset artists today. Yet unlike Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, or Francisco Goya, Rubens did not make his own prints, but rather hired printmakers to translate his compositions into authorized reproductive engravings and woodcuts and supervised them vigorously. He avoided artists who tried to impose their own ideas and styles on the reproductions, encouraging printmakers to imitate his painterly effects. At the show’s core are around forty magnificent prints after compositions by Rubens from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, repository of the largest group of prints after Rubens in the world. These are joined by several paintings by and prints after Rubens from the Ringling collection. While the paintings are well-known favorites to regular Ringling visitors, the prints have rarely, if ever, been on view. The exhibition gives audiences a chance to compare and understand how painted compositions were transformed into printed ones, pairing paintings from the Ringling with prints made after them, from the collections of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. For example, Rubens’s painting depicting the Flight of Lot and His Family from Sodom from the Ringling collection is displayed alongside a print made after it by Lucas Vorsterman, one of the printmakers Rubens employed to make authorized reproductions of his images. The exhibition also includes a didactic installation by Bradenton-based artist Joe Loccisano to help visualize the artists’ process from painting to print. The exercise illustrates the distinctive differences between forms of print media, including engraving, etching and woodcuts.
John Ringling, one of the five original circus kings of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, was blessed with entrepreneurial genius and through his success with the circus and other investments, became quite wealthy. In 1911, John (1866-1936) and his wife, Mable (1875-1929) purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota, Florida. The couple’s first project in Sarasota was the splendid Venetian Gothic mansion Cà d’Zan, built between 1924 and 1926 for a then staggering sum of $1.5 million. In the spirit of America’s wealthiest Gilded Age industrialists, John Ringling gradually acquired a significant art collection, including paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Velàzquez, Poussin, van Dyck and other Baroque masters, as well as rare antiquities from Cyprus. He built a palace for his treasures in a 21-gallery Museum of Art on his Sarasota property. The Florentine style building emulates the Uffizi Gallery and was specifically designed to house his collection of European paintings and art objects. The Ringlings had accumulated a treasure trove of objects, the result of many trips to Europe while searching for new circus acts. For years they acquired columns, architectural details and many fine art pieces. The result is a museum with a courtyard filled with bronze replicas of Greek and Roman sculpture, including a bronze cast of Michelangelo’s David.
John Ringling bequeathed his art collection, mansion and estate to the people of the State of Florida at the time of his death in 1936. By the late 1990s, the decay from deferred maintenance had reached a critical point. The Cà d’Zan mansion was falling apart, the roof of the Museum of Art leaked, and the building completed in 1957 to house the Historic Asolo Theater was condemned. The future of the Ringling Estate was uncertain. In 2000, Ringling’s original $1.2 million endowment had hardly grown to $2 million. Governance was transferred from the State of Florida’s Department of State to Florida State University establishing the Ringling estate as one of the largest museum/university complexes in the nation. As part of the University, the Museum has experienced a rebirth. In 2002, when $42.9 million was provided through the State for new buildings, it came with a condition that the Ringling board raise $50 million in endowment within five years. Impossible as the task then seemed, more than $55 million was donated or pledged by 2007. The transformation that culminated in 2007 restored all the existing buildings and expanded the Estate with four new buildings on the Museum’s Master Plan: the Tibbals Learning Center, the John M. McKay Visitors Pavilion – housing the Historic Asolo Theater, the Education/Conservation Building and the Ulla R. and Arthur F. Searing Wing. The Museum’s financial footing was also secured with the beginnings of a healthy endowment. Visit the museum’s website at … http://www.ringling.org